Without a hit since 2002’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Nia Vardalos tweaks a script by Mike Reiss (a former writer for The Simpsons and The Critic) so that it could better fit the mold of her brand of mirthless ethnic comedy. But My Life in Ruins will not be the comeback Vardalos seeks, because instead of taking a hint from the failure of My Big Fat Greek Life, Vardalos’s 2003 bomb of a TV spinoff, she soldiers on here with the painfully unfunny assumption that everyone wants to be Greek.
As a Greek-American, I’m not so much seriously upset with Vardalos’s tacky humor as I am intensely irritated by it. It’s one thing to poke fun of stereotypical Greek behavior, but it’s another to bitch about the tourists who clog the already varicose-thin Athenian streets. That’s what Vardalos does for a sizeable portion of My Life in Ruins, laughing and winking at boorish Americans, stuffy Brits, and dunderhead Aussies who, in her film, go on guided tours of Greece without any real interest in Greek culture. As Georgia, their ditzy tour guide and under-appreciated anthropology professor, she insists that souvlaki and the Parthenon should be of interest to them, but they, being sloppily conceived butts of Vardalos’s jokes, are only interested in souvenirs and beaches, as if brainless leisure and admiring stereotypical monuments were mutually exclusive activities of the average Greek tourist. To educate them, she fights an uphill battle to make them interested, as if the aforementioned attractions weren’t already staples of the Disneyfication of Greece.
Then again, the tourists are the least of Georgia’s concerns; later they’re revealed to be obnoxious philistines who are, at heart, decent morons. Georgia also can’t stand natives, especially their cliché slow pace. Then again, she comes to Greece, as she says in her patronizing introduction, to embrace that kind of attitude, or “kefee,” as she says we Greeks call it. With the help of Poupi (Alexis Georgoulis), the secretly hunky driver of her dilapidated tour bus, she learns to relax and enjoy life. That kind of corny “live and let live” truism may play well with senior citizens, but maybe I’m speaking too soon—as a wise old man sitting next to me at the screening announced to his wife, “I came out for this?”
As if Vardalos and Reiss’s stultifying nonstarter of a comedy wasn’t dismal enough, take a look—or better yet, don’t—at what it forces poor Richard Dreyfuss to do for a paycheck. Having recently played Dick Cheney with a wonderfully hammy knack in Oliver Stone’s W., the veteran stars as Irv, the magical little old tourist that Georgia initially hates because of his obnoxious need to tell miserable puns, but to whom she eventually warms up after finding out he’s a widower. Irv is Georgia’s fairy godfather, the great mediator between her and Poupi, who embodies her unkempt Greekiness. He shows her it’s all right to unclench—“You’re tighter than my Aunt Gladys’s ass”—and even have a little fun. That fun, of course, involves a Viagra joke. If Vardalos’s idea of funny is to make someone as talented as Dreyfuss joke about getting a medicinally-induced boner, I think her time in the limelight is done, at least until she figures out how to sell herself again.