Every so often you need a romantic comedy. One that is predictable, sweet and passably funny. A good movie for a date with your honey -- or your mother-in-law.
Something like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which is based on a one-woman show by Nia Vardalos, a Greek-Canadian comedienne.
In the film adaptation Vardalos also plays the lead, Toula Portokalos, a 30-something, frumpy, young, second-generation Greek woman whose father Gus (Michael Constantine) is desperate to see her married -- but only if she marries a Greek. Greek women, according to Toula's family, are only good for two things -- to make more Greeks and to cook food. Lots of food. Instead of being a good Greek girl, however, Toula falls for Ian Miller, a xeno (non-Greek) high-school English teacher who stumbles into the family restaurant one morning. Ian has a few family problems of his own but only of the deadly silence, button-down, Gold Coast WASP variety.
Like most twice-told tales, the pleasure of the story comes both from its predictability (girl gets boy, boy and girl struggle with parents' eccentricities) and from its specificity. You could shuffle the ethnic group -- Albanians or Italians, Jews or Armenians, so long as its members revel in their loud, self-contained lovingness -- but you can't substitute the details: the Parthenon front porch in a quiet middle-class neighborhood, the roasted lamb on a spit on the front lawn, the huge reproduction of the Greek flag on the garage door. There's just a touch of seriousness to the immigrants' tale as well -- brief allusions to the story of all immigrants who go in search of a better life for their children, but have a hard time leaving the old country behind.
The pacing of the first half of the film is a little slow, but it picks up nicely when the whole crazy Portokalos extended family gets into the act. Lainie Kazan in particular is wonderful as the overweight, overbearing, and delightful mother who's over the top, but not too far gone.
Romantic comedies require a deft touch, and the writing of Nia Vardalos provides it. The very predictability of the film, aided by substantial intelligence, makes My Big Fat Greek Wedding a delightful confection of a summer film.
-- Andrea Lucard