Toula Portokalos is Greek, and she’s never allowed to forget it for a second. She went to Greek school not Girl Scouts; she lives in Chicago in a house modeled after the Parthenon; she works at her “old country” parents’ restaurant, Dancing Zorba’s. She’s dumpy, plain, 30 years old, waits tables and continually listens to her father sift the accomplishments and etymologies of the rest of the world through his Greek-colored perspective. She’s been raised on Greek loyalty, tradition, moussaka and guilt, doomed to a condiment-filling existence while her father complains, “You better get married soon. You starting to look old.”
Then, her future walks into the restaurant. She has a difficult time pouring him a cup of coffee and freezes in conversation, but just the sight of him gives her life a fear-fueled rocket boost that gets her pathetic ass in gear and out of her home-cooked fate. Second City veteran Nia Vardalos stars as Toula, and rightly so. Having developed the film script from her autobiographical one-woman stage show, she breathes Toula to life as the funny, awkward “nowhere” hero living the American dream of self-re-creation and falling in love.
Directed by veteran sitcom director Joel Zwick (“Happy Days,” “Bosom Buddies”), My Big Fat Greek Wedding is that rare animal known as “a perfect family film,” because it’s about family: that quirky, clashing, living organism that relies on its internal organs to perpetuate balance and harmony, with the mother at the heart, and the father at the head, or, as Toula’s mother (Lainie Kazan) puts it, “The man is the head, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head any way she wants.”
Included in this endearing cast are “SCTV”’s famed Andrea Martin as overbearing aunt Voula and Michael Constantine as Toula’s difficult father Gus, whose portrayal of conflicting idiosyncratic devotion to Greece and his family embodies itself on Constantine’s troubled, jovial face, expressing an internal torture that constantly relies on humor to cool itself off.
You may have to drag your teenagers kicking and whining, but despite themselves, they’ll get a laugh and some insight into the dark beauty of bound-for-life.
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].