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My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
I was almost ready to give up on romantic comedies. Years of lifeless formulaic attempts at the genre had destroyed virtually all enthusiasm I had for them. But along comes this little indie comedy with no hint of pretense and a willingness to eschew the standard formulas in favor of a healthy dose of reality and some well-written characters. I was just beside myself with glee.
The story revolves around Toula (Nia Vardalos) and her Greek family. Her parents came to America to start a family and try to build something for their children. They most certainly did not leave their culture behind though. Their house looks like the Parthenon. All the children are sent to Greek school to learn the language and history of their ancestors. Toula's father obsesses over being Greek, daring anyone to find a word that doesn't derive from the language. She grows up like most kids, feeling awkward and different. But Toula has the crutch of a family that is wildly different from others. This feeds into her father's insistence that Greek women are supposed to marry Greek men, make Greek babies and cook Greek food. It doesn't appeal to her but the overwhelming size and personality of her family makes it seem inevitable.
Eventually though, she tires of it and talks her parents into letting her go to college, under the pretense of learning computers to update the ordering system for the family restaurant. Away from her parents a bit she starts to flourish, dumping her frumpy appearance reserved nature for a more outgoing attitude and look. Eventually she gets a job working for her aunt's travel agency and there meets Ian (John Corbett), the man of her dreams. Only one problem, he's not Greek. In fact, Ian's family puts the white in white bread.
The joy of the romance here is that it is driven by the characters and not by the plot, a mistake all too common in such films. We have two people who are clearly smitten with each other and they bend over backwards to make sure that they stay together. Ian in particular, as he sacrifices himself to all things Greek, in order to please her parents.
The story is a romance but also one of culture clash. But this kind of culture clash occurs inside a family that has moved to America. The parents try desperately to hang on to the culture they grew up with but at the same time the children are trying to embrace American culture. Toula and her brother want to do their own thing but find it painful to do so without hurting their father. Oddly enough, it takes Ian to teach Toula that she shouldn't be embarassed of her family. This allows her to find a semi-comfortable state where she embraces her family while flying in the face of what they want for her.
It's that great affection for the culture that gives rise to the comedy in this film. Without it, you could easily take offense at the proceedings as being mocking of Greek stereotypes. It's nice to see a film that can gently poke fun at something without actually being insulting. That makes it more of a human comedy that can be appreciated by anyone. There is a great shot during the wedding where we can see Ian's family struggling to fill a few rows of the church while Toula's family packs the other side. It reminded me of my early days of dating my wife when I realized with a shock that either side of her family dwarfed my entire family. The film is filled with such observations that make it consistently funny without trying to go for the big gag jokes. For once I can whole heartedly recommend a romantic comedy. That's a notion that will take some getting used to.
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