‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2′: Four houses’ worth of unsubtle fun
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When they turned the 2002 feature film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” into a CBS sitcom called “My Big Fat Greek Life” just a year later, the premiere episode drew a whopping 22.9 million viewers — but a mere seven episodes later, “My Big Fat Greek Life” was dead.
Too bad. I always thought in the right hands, the sweet and funny, albeit broad and sometimes stereotype-embracing adventures of Nia Vardalos’ late-blooming rose and her ridiculously close extended family could have made for a wonderful, long-running TV hit.
Now, nearly a decade and a half after “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” exploded as a critical and word of mouth hit, grossing some $241 million in North America, Vardalos’ Toula returns to the big screen in a sequel that’s never subtle, rarely surprising — and as rich, syrupy, sweet and satisfying as a tray of homemade baklava.
The eminently likable Vardalos (who scripted the original and the sequel) is front and center as the now 40-something Toula — but “MBFGW2” is a true ensemble comedy, with Vardalos having only a little more screen time than about a dozen other characters, including:
• John Corbett as Toula’s Anglo husband Ian, the principal of the Chicago high school attended by their 17-year-old daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris).
• The magnificent veterans Michael Constantine and Lainie Kazan as Toula’s parents, Gus and Maria. A running joke has Gus explaining how every term, every piece of history and every person he encounters is Greek. (“The Greeks invented Facebook,” Gus says with the upmost confidence, even if his explanation is beyond flimsy.)
• A typically hilarious Andrea Martin as Aunt Voula.
• Joey Fatone as Toula’s cousin Angelo, who is considering coming out of the closet.
• Bess Meisler as Mana-Yiayia, the mostly silent great-grandmother who might not be as out of it as she appears to be.
The sequel finds Toula at a crossroads. Her only child has gone from calling her “Mommy!” with unabashed glee to exasperated moans of “Mother!” when she’s embarrassed by mom; her travel agency has closed down and she’s back working at her parents’ restaurant; and she and her husband are so busy with work and parenting and family issues, the romance has disappeared from their marriage.
Meanwhile, Toula’s parents learn they were never legally married, so they make plans to rectify it, but not without much drama. (Merely going to work and school in the morning comes with much drama for this family. They wouldn’t have it any other way.) Paris feels smothered by her family and is considering attending school a thousand miles away; Gus’ estranged brother is about to visit from Greece, and the neighbors disapprove of the loud histrionics of the family that has four — count ’em, four — side-by-side houses on one street in an otherwise quiet neighborhood.
Director Kirk Jones (“Waking Ned Devine,” “Nanny McPhee”) juggles the interconnecting plots in nimble fashion, keeping things moving along at a brisk pace. (The running time is a shade past an hour and a half.) The screenplay by Vardalos includes some sharp one-liners, some beautifully touching moments — and a few visual gags that seemed forced and land with a thud. (Many of these bits involve the Yiayia character, but she does have a nice moment with her great-granddaughter late in the film.)
I’ve never been a huge fan of Corbett’s laid-back, granola-smile style, but he’s serviceable here in a quiet supporting role. John Stamos has a cheesy cameo as a cheesy anchor for ABC-7 News whose trademark phrase is “Hey Now, Chicago!” (He’d last about a week with that.)
On the plus side, Vardalos is wonderful, and 88-year-old Michael Constantine casually pockets every scene he’s in as the Greek patriarch who reminds me of just about every Greek patriarch I’ve ever met. He wears his Greek pride on his sleeve, he believes Greek daughters and granddaughters should marry fine young Greek men, but he’s modern enough to accept into the family a man with character and heart.
Oh, and he’s convinced he’s a direct descendant of Alexander the Great. Five minutes after he meets you, he’ll be telling you about that.
Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Kirk Jones and written by Nia Vardalos. Running time: 94 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for some suggestive material). Opens Friday at local theaters.