It’s doubtful anyone was expecting much from ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ back in 2002, certainly not that this modest independent film would become a cultural phenomenon, an Oscar nominee and the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time. Close to 15 years might muddy our memories, but at the time, writer and actor Nia Vardalos’ Greek family saga was refreshing, furiously funny and quietly subversive, not quite like any other comedy. There was immediate call for a sequel, but Vandalos resisted, unsure whether the characters had anywhere else to go. With ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2’, she appears to have found somewhere, and with the entire original cast and new director Kirk Jones along for the ride, they try to recapture that magic all over again.
With her ridiculous wedding many years behind her, Toula (Vardalos) has three strains on her life. While her marriage with Ian (John Corbett) is holding strong, the demands of career and family have left little time to spend together. Their daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris) is about to finish high school and threatens to go to a college interstate. But most preposterous of all is her parents Maria (Lainie Kazan) and Gus (Michael Constantine), who have just discovered that, by a clerical error, they were never legally married. With the family in tow and very involved, Toula has to find a way to save her marriage, keep a hold of her daughter and organise her own parents’ wedding... without losing her sanity.
The original film was lightning in a bottle, and the sequel is both an attempt to recreate it and something of its own. The observational sharpness of Vardalos’ original screenplay isn’t as strong here, both because of the many narrative threads and our familiarity with the Portokalos family and their eccentricities. With so many stories to deal with, the film lacks a narrative focus or clarity, and as a result some of the threads are stronger than others. It’s also not as fresh, much of the comedy rehashing old jokes from the original, yet what should be a welcome return isn’t resurrected in a satisfying way.
What does work though, and what makes the film a surprising delight, is that the drama lands beautifully. By shifting the focus to Maria and Gus’ relationship, we’re offered tender moments of honesty where a couple who have been together most of their lives open up about what that relationship has meant for them. Rather than simply marrying him, Maria demands of Gus a declaration of their lives together, and both face the prospect of being without one another when faced with each others’ pigheadedness. Gus in particular is offered a moment that starts as comedy and quickly morphs into achingly romantic. It’s this lens that allows Toula to reignite her own marriage and make the right decisions for her family, and while this narrative thread is never as interesting as Maria and Gus, it’s a credit to Vardalos that she finds an effective and affecting way to tie them all together.
As a film, ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2’ is sadly pedestrian, relying on the actors and the screenplay to do all the work.
Unfortunately, Kirk Jones doesn’t give the film quite the same flair Joel Zwick did with the original, going for a more traditional romantic film tone than riffing on the rich Greek culture. As a film, ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2’ is sadly pedestrian, relying on the actors and the screenplay to do all the work. It feels strange to criticise the direction in a romantic comedy, a genre that’s never been that artistically exciting, but extra snap, wit and immediacy would have really lifted this film the way it did the first.
The entire cast have returned, down to the smallest part, and this is both a blessing and a curse. The stronger members of the ensemble, such as Kazan, Constantine and Andrea Martin as the iconic Aunt Voula really steal the film, slipping back into the characters with graceful ease and actually developing them further. Bess Meisler is also a giddy delight as Yiayia, Maria’s mother, who somehow still manages to be a real highlight while hardly uttering a word, and John Corbett still carries the same goofy charm as Ian. His and Vardalos’ chemistry is very much intact, and while her performance isn’s as strong this second time around, her moments with Corbett, Kazan, Constantine and Martin are still little gems. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast aren’t as strong, old ensemble members finding it more difficult to find their characters, or the new cast (particularly Kampouris) never rising to the challenge.
It was a lot to expect that ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2’ would land as well as its predecessor, having unexpectedly large shoes to fill. I’m a huge fan of the original though, and while I found the comedy and creativity lacking, I still found much to love about returning to the Portokalos family. They still feel painfully and wonderfully familiar, and seeing them navigate the complications of family is even more moving than before. In the end, that’s what Nia Vardalos’ creation is all about - the importance of family and how it shapes the people we become. This second wedding might not be as much fun as the first, but it’s still a wedding worth heading along to.