My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2: Nice Day to Start Again, by David Bax
2002’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding may have lacked originality or anything even resembling an edge but it more than compensated with its big heart, romantic chemistry and a hint of personal idiosyncrasy from lead/screenwriter Nia Vardalos, if only because movies about the Greek-American experience were rare (and remain so). Fourteen years later, with Waking Ned Devine’s Kirk Jones replacing Joel Zwick in the director’s chair, Vardalos seems to have forgotten what made the original a record-breaking independent American comedy. Instead, she has opted to abide by the standard Hollywood sequel school of amplifying only the broadest aspects of the previous entry. There is heart to be found here, eventually, but My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is mostly a paltry and disappointing effort likely to be as forgotten as the short-lived sitcom version.
The new film finds Toula (Vardalos) in existential crisis mode again. Her daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris), is now seventeen and the all-consuming job of motherhood plus the constant prying and neediness of her extended family have left Toula drained. Now she and husband Ian (John Corbett) must prepare for Paris’ impending departure for college while they also try to reignite the romantic flame in their marriage that work and family have stifled. Meanwhile, Toula’s parents, Maria (Laine Kazan) and Gus (Michael Constantine), discover that, due to a clerical error, they were never legally married in Greece and seek to rediscover and redefine their own relationship while staging a new wedding of their own.
Vardalos is such an endearing presence that it’s disheartening to see Toula’s personal and familial victories from the first film reversed. It’s even more upsetting that these backslides are not honest character traits but selective erasures made for the convenience of retracing the previous entry’s steps. Toula comes across as so crushingly sad in the first act that she seems to be in the wrong movie. She is as unconfident a mother as she was a single woman and only so the screenplay can manufacture a familiar arc for her.
Toula’s emotional state is not the only incredulous contrivance Big Fat 2 tries to pull on us. In fact, most of the conflicts appear to have no root in the reality of the movie. Ian is reintroduced as a warm and caring husband and father who still always knows the right thing to say. So, by the halfway point, when he is suddenly testy with Toula’s continued involvement with her extended family to the detriment of her nuclear one, it’s jarring. (Plus, dude, it’s been almost two decades. You’re just now getting fed up with this?) The movie gets so in the habit of falsifying its own backstory that it even bizarrely makes up an explanation for why Aunt Voula’s (Andrea Martin) travel agency has closed instead of just acknowledging that it’s 2016 and storefront travel agencies essentially don’t exist anymore.
Speaking of Martin, she is once again assigned the lion’s share of the comedic heavy lifting. Being the talent that she is, she does a good job but it’s exasperating to see her and the rest of the cast saddled with such shallow material. Most every joke set-up is a variation on, “It’s the same people you loved from before but now with new technology and trends!” There are multiple FaceTime-based scenarios, the words “Zumba class” are spoken with a heavy Greek accent and, cringingly, one character even utters a “…said no one ever.” What’s worse, after each of these instances, Jones appears to be leaving space for laughter, letting the characters stare at one another awkwardly, inadvertently mimicking the subdued reactions of the viewer.
Back in 2002, Vardalos surprised us with a film so universal, common even, in its joyous humanity that it invited multiple viewings and became a hit. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 occasionally relocates that warmth but it’s too little, too late and too strained. People will likely be less inspired to watch it again than they will be to just revisit the first one instead.