There is nothing like a family reunion! After fourteen years, the extended Portokalos clan from My Big Fat Greek Wedding was still as hilarious and relatable as ever.
Both films were written by and starring Nia Vardalos, who based the characters on her own relatives . While the story is about a Greek-American family, however, it transcends ethnicity. The first film was about being a second-generation immigrant (or first-generation, depending on how one counts these things – basically, the child of immigrants) and the trials of fitting in and building a future. It was also a classic romance, with Vardalos’s character of Toula meeting a non-Greek man and falling in love. Many viewers could relate to how their own loves lives did not necessarily meet with parental approval, and how the cultures of their spouse and that of their family clashed, and yet how they were also similar. While the film celebrated being Greek – and there were a lot of jokes specific to Greeks and Greek stereotypes, the ethnicity of choice could have just as easily been something else.
Even viewers whose families were not recent immigrants, such as myself, could relate to the family dynamics. Whether it was the big, loud, nosey extended family, or whether it was the meddling parents, or whether it was just the feeling of being weird and not fitting in with your neighbours, there was something that most of us could relate to. In fact, I had to most laugh at the exaggerated WASP-ness ofToula’s fiancé’s family! While anyone who knows my family would hardly consider us ‘toast’ (as in “bland and boring”), the stereotypes were otherwise very accurate. Ian’s family is small, quiet, high on conformity, kind and well-meaningly naïve in a way that unfortunately comes across as offensive. No wonder he is interested in becoming a part of Toula’s loud, close, and boisterous clan! He finally gets a chance to have siblings and a lot more cousins.
In My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, eighteen years have passed since Toula and Ian got married. They have a seventeen-year-old daughter, Paris, who is graduating high school. Meanwhile, the rest of the family have carried on with their lives – growing older, getting married, having children, and working at various family businesses. Meeting up with them again is like catching up with distant relatives after a long absence. We are excited to see them, but we have missed a lot. Unfortunately, Toula’s narration only can get us so far, and we do not get much of a chance to hear individual stories. For instance, we never learn why her cousin Nikki refers to herself as having had a wedding when she has no husband in sight, even in scenes where his presence would be logical. A throwaway line explaining that he was in the military, worked shiftwork at a mine, or that she was divorced, would have been appreciated. Also, we never hear about Toula’s older nephews who were already around in the first film – again, they likely were meant to be among the many extras, but a throwaway line mentioning their whereabouts would have been helpful. I can logically work out that young men in their late teens and early twenties would probably avoid the noisy family or have excuses such as work or college. Still, a line or two would have been helpful!
Instead, viewers would be forgiven for thinking that Paris is the oldest grandchild! She is the only girl in the immediate family – Toula’s older sister had six or seven boys (the younger ones being featured in this film) and her younger brother had four boys. This is, of course, the source for a lot of comedy, from jokes about Ian’s vegetarianism to how much the boys are like their grandfather to everyone being overly concerned with Paris’s marriage prospects. It is funny and relatable – Greek or not. Everyone has (or is) that one branch of the family that is a bit different than the rest.
The big wedding of the sequel is in fact Toula’s parents, who discover that the priest back in Greece did not sign their wedding certificate, so they have been living together for fifty years while not being officially married. Not as far-fetched as it might seem! Indeed, things like that happen relatively often. Usually, everyone gets a good laugh, and those involved either leave things the status quo or quickly remedy the situation. All that Gus and Maria Portokalos would have had to do would be to have their current priest conduct a short wedding ceremony after church and sign the certificate. Everyone, including Toula’s father Gus, assumed that would be the case.
But if that would be the case, the movie would have been entirely about Paris’s college choices and Toula and Ian rekindling their marriage after eighteen years of being Mom and Dad. That would have been interesting, but much too dramatic. No, this is a comedy!
Instead of simply calling the priest and having a wedding, Maria took the opportunity to re-evaluate her entirely life and the choices that she made. She insists on having her decidedly un-romantic husband propose to her, and then wants a fancy wedding. For half a century, she has felt taken for granted. Gus has treated her like a beloved employee, especially as he has grown older and more crotchety.
This film is about marriage and relationships: Gus and Maria realising their feelings for each other after fifty years; Ian and Toula re-evaluating how they relate to each other now that they are no longer full-time parents; and Paris embarking on romance and figuring out her place in the world. We get a lot of other comedic sketch scenes with various family members as well, and everyone seems to be doing fine. Moreso than the first film, there is something for everyone to relate to. In such a big extended family – even including Ian’s parents now – there are a wide range of personalities and life situations.
We can get caught up in the zoo factor of culture, but at heart, while we are all different, we are all very similar. We want love and acceptance. We are proud of our accomplishments. We want to succeed and our children to succeed, but most of all, we want to love and be loved. It is easy to take that love for granted when it isn’t new anymore and when we have grown so used to certain roles. But those roles aren’t set in stone. Toula’s grandmother, an elderly widow who speaks little English, is still carving out a role for herself and having fun with life. After all, she isn’t dead yet!
Despite negative reviews, this is a funny, thought-provoking, and heartwarming film. It was exactly what it advertised itself as – a family comedy with romance thrown in. It is not a “romantic comedy”, but a “domestic comedy with romance”. The first film was indeed a romance. However, we have moved on passed that now. This is about what happens after the wedding, about real love, and about being a part of a family, even if you don’t end up living on the same street.