Introducing “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”: An Independent Film Production That Became an Excellent, Big Fat Paycheck

My Big Fat Greek Wedding – 4 Stars (Excellent)

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is simply one of the best movies ever made about close families and their traditions.

This film is on par with Fiddler on the Roof (winner of 3 Oscars among 8 nominations) and A Christmas Story (winner of no major awards and no Oscar nominations), proving that the biggest award-winners are not the only great movies.

A Christmas Story and My Big Fat Greek Wedding were matched bookends in that both films were not thought to be worthy of financing by typical Hollywood backers and ended up as independent films with limited distribution before becoming huge successes.

A Christmas Story, a low budget film that was not expected to do well, was released just before Thanksgiving in 1983. By Christmas the film had been pulled from theaters because it was thought to have been “played out.” It was only because of complaints from moviegoers that it was brought back to life and has since developed a loyal following of fans that will not let it die.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding was filmed because a gutsy Greek girl named Nia Vardalos believed in herself and in her one-woman stage show to keep performing until Rita Wilson saw the play. She persuaded her husband Tom Hanks to produce a movie version.

Wilson, like Vardalos, is Greek. Wilson’s reward as one of the producers with her husband and Gary Goetzman was to see the project completed. The PGA Golden Laurel Awards remembered Rita Wilson by giving her the Visionary Award in 2003. The three producers also won the Golden Laurel Award for Producer of the Year.

So we have in My Big Fat Greek Wedding a low budget, independent film that was about to make Hollywood history.

To show you how dumb the Hollywood financial backers were and how smart Tom Hanks was the estimated $5 million budget for My Big Fat Greek Wedding generated worldwide revenue of $368 million.

The Hollywood backers thought America filmgoers would not accept an ethnic film. I wonder how many of the same backers recognized that Fiddler on the Roof, produced 31 years earlier in 1971, was an ethnic film about a Jewish family which broke with the tradition of arranged marriages.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) became the highest-grossing independent film of all time, surpassing The Blair Witch Project (1999). It also became the highest grossing movie never to have hit number one at the box office, surpassing Dances of the Wolves (1990). Incredibly , the film was still running in several theaters even after its initial video release.

This film is essentially the story of Toula (Nia Vardalos), a 30-year-old Greek woman who falls in love with John (Ian Miller), a non-Greek man, and struggles to get her family to accept him while both of them come to terms with their heritage, cultural identity and mutual compatibility.

As Toula says, “Nice Greek girls are supposed to do three things in life: marry Greek boys, make Greek babies, and feed everyone . . . until the day we die.”

Her father, Gus Portokalos (Michael Constantine) says: “You better get married soon. You’re starting to look old!” Gus also says, “There are only two kinds of people, Greeks and people who wish they were Greek.” He believes any ailment can be cured with Windex.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is the Greek community at its most accurate and best, all of the suffocating love, demanded tradition, motivation by guilt, male ego, female influence, pride of race, sibling ties, extended family, romance and sacrifice for those we love.

This film is not heavy and dripping with drama, this is a romantic comedy mixed with strong family traditions that proves Shakespeare’s sage observation that “all’s well that ends well.”

The cast is not star-studded and proves that you do not need to be a headliner to deliver a headliner’s performance and then some. Joining Nia Vardalos, Michael Constantine and Ian Miller with significant and meaningful contributions were Lainie Kazan as Toula’s mother Maria, Louis Mandylor as Toula’s brother Nick, Andrea Martin as Aunt Voula, and Gia Carides as Cousin Nikki.

Vardalos, Constantine, Mandylor and Carides were the only true Greeks in the cast.

There is a point in the film when Toula feels she is losing the battle and laments that “the man is the head of the house.” Her mother Maria tells her that “the man is the head, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head any way she wants.” Maria does so in a confrontation with her husband that should make women proud.

This film will warm you heart, entertain your soul and cause you to walk away a better person for having seen this superb effort in moviemaking. Toula’s personal growth as a young woman freeing herself from forced expectations against insufferable odds is so precious that you want to take her home and adopt her.

I once went to a Polish funeral and was amazed that when the funeral was over and the reception began, the whiskey flowed and all of the immediate family and friends had a heck of great party drinking, dancing and singing. I learned more about family traditions in different cultures at that Polish funeral. Some cultures celebrate the life of a loved one after the funeral.

Despite the complications presented in My Big Fat Greek Wedding you come away wanting to be Greek because you see the love and the fun that they have much more than any disagreements or disappointments.

The interaction between Toula and her brother Nick is really sweet, touching and funny.

At one point, Nick is impressed with Toula’s ability to break with tradition (he secretly wants to study art) and says, “Don’t let your past dictate who you are, but let it be part of who you will become.” “Nick, that’s beautiful,” replies Toula, to which Nick adds, “Yeah, that dear Abby really knows what she’s talking about.”

Nia Vardalos wrote the script and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay, was nominated for 6 other lesser screenwriting awards and won 2. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is directed by Joel Zwick who won two minor awards for his effort. I feel he deserved more recognition.

The film garnered little attention among the big award givers but did appropriately win the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Comedy. Almost as an afterthought, My Big Fat Greek Wedding won the Best Independent Comedy Film Award from the U. S. Comedy Arts Festival. It would be my pleasure if some of the Comedy Film Award judges were Greek.

There is Greek love throughout this film, from Rita Wilson’s vision to the thousands of Greek Americans who said, hey, this is Greek, this is good. The Greek community really made the film become a box office record-setter while we non-Greeks came on board later and enjoyed the film just as much.

When I left the theater, I went looking for ouzo, the Greek anise-flavored liqueur so celebrated in the film at Greek gatherings. They would down a shot of ouzo and shout “oumpa.”

I married a girl from a very traditional Italian Catholic family. Every Christmas my wife makes Italian cookies with anise-flavored frosting, no wonder I loved My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Anyone who wants a job watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding should be Greek, love ouzo and love having fun. Others need not apply unless, of course, they might want to be Greek, want to try ouzo, and have fun!

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