Monday, March 28, 2016

Bigger, Fatter and Greeker: "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" a trifling sequel that's still amusing and sweet


My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (2016) 
94 min., rated PG-13.

It was easy to fall for the unassuming charms of 2002’s affectionate, massively likable sleeper comedy “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”—a box-office smash that grossed more than $300 million—but if the appeal of the independent original was Greek to you, then it’s probably best to sit out the belatedly conceived “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.” There really wasn’t a demand for a sequel 14 years later, even after 2003 spin-off TV series “My Big Fat Greek Life” was canceled after only 7 episodes, and yet, it leaves you grinning anyway. Contrived and more pleasant than surprising, the film is decidedly not deprived of its predecessor’s amiable, eager-to-please spirit, offering just enough amusement and sweetness to sneak past a cynic’s defenses. 

Time-traveling must exist in this world because 17 years have actually passed on account of Toula (Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) having a 17-year-old daughter named Paris (Elena Kampouris), who’s constantly blushing as long as her wacky, meddlesome Greek family is around. Toula used to feel the same way, as her stubborn, old-fashioned parents, Gus (Michael Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan), kept drilling into her head the supposed importance of finding a Greek man to marry until meeting the WASPish Ian. No longer a travel agent due to the state of the economy, she still helps out her dad with the family business at restaurant Zorba’s and volunteers where she can but doesn’t make time for romance with her husband. With Paris in the midst of applying to colleges, Toula and Ian (and their big Greek family) also wouldn’t mind if their baby stayed in Chicago and went to Northwestern University. Meanwhile, as Gus attempts to use the computer to prove to everyone that Alexander the Great is part of their Greek ancestry, he learns that he and Maria are not legally married without their priest’s signature on their marriage certificate. That can only mean one thing: it’s time for another big, fat Greek wedding! 

As Kirk Jones (2012’s “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”) directs Nia Vardalos’ script this time, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” still feels like a sitcom too broad and boisterous even for the big screen, but like its predecessor, it finds some actual honesty in the stereotypical ethnic humor next to the crowd-pleasing wackiness. In lieu of another archaic ugly-duckling arc for a fairy tale-ish happy ending, the writing here is sometimes wiser and refreshingly feminist. When Gus wants to officially marry Maria, she actually likes the independence and goes on a strike as a wife before her grouchy husband proposes to her in romantic fashion. At the same time, Paris wants to go to school out of state so she can experience life without being suffocated by her family, and she works up the guts to ask out a boy (Alex Wolff) to prom. A lot is packed into a breezily paced 94 minutes (including Joey Fatone’s cousin Angelo coming out to his family), but somehow, the film feels more like a slice-of-Greek-life than a pile of trifling plot threads vying for attention. 

Having starred in two other movies that she wrote (2004’s “Connie and Carla” and 2009’s “I Hate Valentine’s Day”), Nia Vardalos has never really been able to find another vehicle that matched the delightful spark of her first script. As the once-frumpy Toula, the warm and daffy Vardalos lights up the screen; yes, it’s a hacky cliché but the truth. Without being more overbearing than they are supposed to be, the ensemble seem to fully exist as real family members as the Portokalos clan. Michael Constantine is amusing and touching as the patriarch, and the brilliantly funny Andrea Martin grabs laughs every chance she gets, still a hoot mugging as the brassy Aunt Voula who makes everything her business. A new addition, Elena Kampouris does nice work as Paris. John Stamos and Rita Wilson (who co-produced both films with husband Tom Hanks) also join the cast, oddly showing up as a Greek doctor and his wife for no real reason. 

One “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” might have been enough, but a mildly enthusiastic response for this sequel is due to the likability of the cast. Script-wise, Nia Vardalos doesn’t rehash the same jokes too much (Gus only uses his fixes-everything Windex twice and grandmother Mana-Yiayia gets her goofy reaction shots) or repeat one too many times (Maria and Voula pull each other’s loose neck skin back for photos twice), while most of the humor is of the smile-and-nod variety. A handful of the jokes would seem to have worked better with the canned laugh track of a live audience, too, including a lame gag involving Gus needing help out of the bathtub after his hip gives out. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” may be a stale excuse to get everyone back together, but for an enjoyable family reunion, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Grade: C +

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