Flash back to 2002, when the original My Big Fat Greek Wedding was still hogging up valuable real estate at art houses everywhere deep into summer. For months after its original release, every family member, every neighbor, every neighbor’s family member excitedly opened conversations by asking if I had finally seen it. Though I’m not proud of it, at the time I would often ask them how many films they’d seen in the theater during the previous 12 months, and would gloat when they admitted that My Big Fat Greek Wedding was the only one. Knowing that the theme of the film was that one should always follow their heart, despite the contradictive directives of family and community, I reasoned that refusing to see the biggest, fattest sleeper hit of our era was a show of solidarity with Nia Varadalos’s lovelorn character, Toula.
With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, and now having seen the harmless but unnecessary sequel, I recognize something else about all those interactions. Just as Toula’s sweet-natured, if overbearing, family ultimately mean well, similarly all those cinema-estranged baby boomers were only trying to have a nice chat with the resident film geek in their lives, eager to, for once, have a movie they were familiar with to talk about. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is, ultimately, a reflection of that sort of mental capitulation that comes with adulthood, seeing clouds, like Joni Mitchell, from both sides now. As Toula puts it early on in her “the story so far” narration, love and suffocation are tantamount. But of all the things you would want to be suffocated by, why wouldn’t good intentions be at the top of the list?
Still living next door to her parents (along with everyone else in her family) in suburban Chicago, Toula begins the film wondering how the time passed by so fast, and how it came to be that her daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris), went from a cherub who called her “Mommy” to become the sullen, easily mortified teenager who calls her “Mother.” Toula is still conscious of her own fraught relationship with her helicoptering relatives, but can’t help herself from doting on Paris. Or allowing her daughter to move to a different city to attend college. Or putting a moratorium on her own father, Gus (Michael Constantine), insisting Paris find a good Greek boyfriend, even though that ship should’ve long ago sailed given Toula’s own convention-bucking nuptials to the xeno Ian (John Corbett). But even as Gus continues to harp on tradition like the Tevye knockoff his character ultimately represents, he discovers that his own spicy marriage to Maria (Lainie Kazan) was never actually finalized with a valid certificate. They are, in effect, living in sin. And therein lies the movie’s excuse to stage another ostentatious wedding.
As far as shameless excuses to rehash crowd-pleasing gags from the first film go (the omnipresence of Windex as a cure-all, a plate of mini boondt cakes on display at the family’s restaurant Dancing Zorba, an ill-timed tête-à-tête with a bottle of ouzo), My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 doesn’t particularly go about its duties cynically. As every fan of the first film would attest, there’s a generosity of spirit that seems almost paradoxical to Vardalos’s outmoded application of cultural stereotypes. It’s simultaneously brash and timid.
Take, for instance, the revelation that Toula’s cousin, Angelo (Joey Fatone), isn’t waiting for the right woman, but has instead already found the right man. Given the Portokalos family’s appetite for pairing girls up with guys, you would expect Angelo’s admission to come accompanied by dozens of scandalized hands thrown up in the air like some Fosse-esque flash-mob routine. But no, his mother, Voula (Andrea Martin, ever the scene-stealer) whispers with a wink, “I knew.” And yet, the film pointedly doesn’t show him dancing alone with his boyfriend, instead revealing them folded inoffensively within the gears of the encircling families, tolerance arriving mostly through invisibility.
Toula and Ian fret a lot about letting Gus and Maria act as matchmakers for Paris to ensure her attachment to a Greek boy, and worry about their lack of alone time compared to Toula’s time spent “fixing” her family. It may take two false endings to get there, but the sequel ultimately hands the win to the family elders. The lesson of the first film was that any rules laid out by your family are only meant to increase your chances for happiness in life, and that nothing will make you happier than to follow the path that makes the most sense to you. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 may recycle a lot of things from the original, but that sentiment isn’t one of them.