My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a hit. A huge hit. A monumental hit. The film made for $5 million in 2002 ended up grossing almost $370 million and stayed in theaters for months on end. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. It is, to this day, the highest grossing romantic comedy in modern American history. My Big Fat Greek Wedding was enormous. So, it makes a perverse kind of sense to open a belated sequel, made 14-years later, set 18ish-years later, against the sure-to-be-enormous Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and hope that they had another sleeper hit on their hands. Sure, the box office environment has changed, souring on romantic comedies and moving away from the loose, schticky vibe of the original… but they knew there was an audience there. The question then becomes: Will that audience be satisfied with such a lukewarm rehash of an old favorite?
Don’t mistake me: My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 isn’t a bad movie. But it isn’t a terribly impressive one either. The best sequels don’t just do more of what you liked in the first film, they innovate. They use the characters and the world they’ve built to explore new ideas. And, to be fair, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 does flirt with that idea. The romantic comedy sequel, after all, can’t be about two lovers coming together for the first time again, it almost has to try something new. In a way, the problem with My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is that it has so many new things on its mind that it never decides which one would make the most interesting movie, and ends up coasting on the charm of a cast largely revisiting the gimmicks that so endeared them to audiences over a decade earlier.
The basic story this time around is thus: Toula (Nia Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett), the awkward lovers from the first film, now have a 17-year-old daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris), who is preparing to go to college. The two adults have lost most of the romance in their relationship focusing on their child, and things get even more hectic when an ancestry project reveals that Toula’s conservative Greek parents were never legally married. Thus, Toula has to choose between sorting out her own marriage and family life, or getting dragged in to the endless drama of her clingy Greek family.
Or, at least that’s what the first two thirds of the movie would have you believe. Of course, Toula can do it all, and her husband’s complaints about not getting enough attention vanish into thin air. The last third of the movie suggests that it was going for a different kind of theme, a look at love in old age, middle age, and youth that looks at the joys and the costs associated with them. Or perhaps it is a story about the changing social mores of an immigrant family as it reaches the third generation in America, and the struggle to hold on to its cultural heritage. Or maybe it is about the dangers taking your loved ones for granted. Or maybe…
Well, you get the picture. These are all interesting ideas, as I said above, and any one or two would have made a really strong backbone for the movie. But, in trying to make all of them work, they actually made none of them work. Let My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 be a lesson: You cannot be all things to all people, and it is better to do one thing really well than everything poorly.
The performances are broader than broad… but that’s not necessarily a weakness in a movie like this. Indeed, the broadness makes the episodic storytelling land a little more forcefully at times, allows us to understand that this is a cartoonish caricature of Greek family life rather than a realistic look. More modulated performances might honestly come off as a bit creepy and manipulative, and might make some of the underdeveloped subplots – like a halfhearted ‘coming out’ story from a supporting character – feel as underbaked as they are. Elena Kampouris exaggerated, exasperated eye rolls may be a teen cliche, but they also quickly sell who and where she is, the ways in which she doesn’t fit in with her more-earnest-than-earnest family. The real star, though, is Lainie Kazan playing Toula’s mother, who is allowed to reminisce about the life she lived and the choices the made in a way that achieves some genuine pathos… at least until the movie needs to end and her story just sort of… stops.
Look, if you liked the original, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is a reasonably enjoyable way to pass the time. There’s a degree to which just revisiting the world is charm enough. Except, well… that’s almost never true, is it? We don’t fall in love with things that are ‘good enough’ – we fall in love with things that are unpredictable and new, things that light a fire in us where nothing else could quite reach. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 doesn’t do that. It doesn’t even try to, really. Like Toula and Ian’s relationship, it has settled into a mostly pleasant rut that it knows is mildly unhealthy, but it just can’t quite work up the energy to do anything about it until the end. Even then, though, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 feels like little more than a feature-length pilot episode for a TV series. Another one, I mean.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is in theaters across the nation right now. Written by Nia Vardalos and directed by Kirk Jones, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 stars Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, and Elena Kampouris.