I recently rewatched the original My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which I enjoyed back in the day but had not seen since it was new in 2002. And it holds up well: it’s not perfect, and it’s a bit too heavy on the ethnic humor and sitcom schtick, but at its core there is a sweet story about a young woman coming out of her shell and finding herself in a way that her loving but overbearing family hadn’t allowed her to do before. That’s not the sort of story we often see in mainstream Hollywood films, and that may be why the movie was such a huge success: it gave voice to a sort of character who doesn’t typically get a voice on the big screen, and underserved women moviegoers longing to see something of their own lives reflected in a movie responded to that.
But I cannot tell who the intended audience is for the sequel, a long 14 years later. The blandly slapdash title My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is, alas, rather apropos: this is a halfhearted retread of the first movie that makes a few unenthusiastic pokes at moving its characters on with their lives, but mostly rewinds them in an apparent attempt to recapture the magic of the first film by having them rewalk a similar path. Toula (Nia Vardalos: Larry Crowne, My Life in Ruins), the clear heroine of the first movie but only the putative one here, is back working at her father’s diner after having achieved her escape back in 2002, and she is feeling stuck again. She is still happily married to Ian (John Corbett: The Boy Next Door, Ramona and Beezus), though, and at first it seems that perhaps her journey this time will come in reconnecting with her 16-year-old daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris: Men, Women & Children, Labor Day), who is the usual sort of sullen, moody, monosyllabic teen we might expect, and who can blame her? Paris is already being subjected to her grandfather’s denigrations that she is looking old and had better find a Greek boyfriend to marry posthaste, just as her mother once was. But even this retreading quickly shifts away to how Toula is caught in an unpleasant middle between a child who is testing boundaries as she approaches adulthood and her aging parents who require more attention and care.
Now, these are issues that many women in their 40s will recognize, and a story about these challenges would likely appeal to the same audiences who saw themselves in the first film. But where’s the wedding in that? So Wedding 2 shifts again to focus on a rift between Toula’s parents, Gus (Michael Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan: Pixels, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan): Gus discovers a clerical oversight on their marriage certificate — the priest never signed it — and figures this means they aren’t actually married… so they have to get married again. Wedding-prep shenanigans were actually only a small part of the first movie, but they overwhelm the sequel, and this feels too much like countless other wedding rom-coms, all pouffy dresses and fancy-invitation etiquette fails… all of it embellished with garish “Greek” froufrou.
There is genuine warmth in Vardalos’s script, if of the exasperated kind, for the perils and pleasures of a too-close family, but it is far more loosely and far less satisfyingly bound up into a cohesive story this time. Plot threads are picked up, examined, and tossed away in a manner that keeps them from ever developing into anything meaningful: one, regarding the love life of Toula’s cousin Angelo (Joey Fatone), comes way too late in the film, and without ever having offered us a hint that it might have been an issue at all. Characters exchange significant-seeming glances without the movie ever having offered us any idea of what might be significant for them in such a moment.
Director Kirk Jones previously made (among other films) the lovely but little-seen family drama Everybody’s Fine, from 2009. I wish he could have brought some of that film’s keen observation of unconditional but hard-pressed love to this movie. That might have saved this genial but shambolic mess from itself.