- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2002

''My Big Fat Greek Wedding," a title that seems to be awaiting some sort of rebuke, is the unrivaled tail-dragger among recent movie comedies. Expanded from a monologue written and performed by Nia Vardalos, who presumably comes by her Greek-American family jokes firsthand, the film suffers from persistent staleness, cliches and slow reaction time. Either Miss Vardalos doesn't "open up" all that felicitously or director Joel Zwick has done her material a lamentable injustice.
Culpability aside, "Big Fat" is the sort of letdown that prompts renewed appreciation for better movies of a similar type specifically, Mira Nair's "Monsoon Wedding," which is likely to linger one place or another for the rest of the year.
You feel like leading a stampede back in its direction while cringing at the shortcomings of "Big Fat," which revolves around the transformation of an ugly duckling impersonated by Miss Vardalos: Toula Portokalos, a 30-year- old spinster in a close-knit Greek-American family in Chicago.
More bad timing for "Big Fat": the close-knit Irish-American Chicago family in "Stolen Summer" is vastly more appealing.
Toula, who enters in optimum frump mode, is employed as the "seating hostess" in the family business, a restaurant called Dancing Zorba's. Papa is Michael Constantine. Mama is Lainie Kazan. Although the plot seems to unfold in the present, it might be easier to swallow if distanced by a generation or two. The jokes have been gathering rust for at least that long.
Toula attracts a whimsical high school English teacher, Ian Miller, played by John Corbett. Their courtship is threatened superficially by the affectionate intrusiveness and bossiness of her family but every obstacle proves a pushover.
Toula the frump disappears as soon as Miss Vardalos changes her hairdo, flashes a smile and brings a bustline out of concealment. The suffocating generosity of the heroine's parents has ceased to be a problem by the denouement, which has the newlyweds gratefully moving into the little dream house next door. Even Ian's terrified parents, directed to resemble uptight zombies by Mr. Zwick in several heartless scenes, are granted a lighthearted reprieve during the wedding reception.
So there's no fictional problem worthy of attention. If we're going to embrace the Portokalos clan, it would be preferable to experience their effusive, blustering attributes as something freshly wacky, endearing and larger than life. Instead, the movie falls back on the overfamiliar facetiousness and aggressive defensiveness characteristic of dud pilots for television sitcoms.
Even beloved comic performers seem to be having off-days. As a Greek aunt, Andrea Martin insists on doing a vocal impression of Chico Marx.
I suppose somewhere on the face of the earth there are spectators who can choke up when overhearing Lainie Kazan testify, "I gave you life so that you could live it." I think someone should have worked harder when formulating maternal platitudes.
From moment to moment and in the last analysis, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" seems about as lovably authentic as a chain of Dancing Zorba's.

*
TITLE: "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"
RATING: PG (Fleeting profanity and comic vulgarity)
CREDITS: Directed by Joel Zwick. Written by Nia Vardalos.
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes


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