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(2002) (Nia Vardalos, John Corbett) (PG)

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Romantic Comedy: An unmarried, 30-year-old woman finds herself falling for a non-Greek man, much to the dismay of her traditional Greek family.
Toula Portokalos (NIA VARDALOS) is an unmarried 30-year-old Greek woman who works with her brother Nick (LOUIS MANDYLOR) at the family restaurant, Dancing Zorba's, run by their parents, Gus (MICHAEL CONSTANTINE) and Maria (LAINIE KAZAN).

Unlike her sister Athena (STAVROULA LOGOTHETTIS) or cousin Nikki (GIA CARIDES), Toula is rather homely in appearance, and never hears the end about not being married with kids, a point that constantly worries Gus who strongly believes that Greek women should marry Greek men, have Greek babies and feed both until they day they die.

Toula wants something more out of life, but is resigned to the fact that things will probably never change. They do, however, when she decides she should go to school so that she can learn computers and work at her Aunt Voula's (ANDREA MARTIN) travel agency. While Maria and Voula manage to convince Gus that that's a good idea, Toula is afraid to tell anyone about the other change in her life.

She's met Ian Miller (JOHN CORBETT), a non-Greek teacher, and fallen in love with him, but fears that her strong family heritage will ultimately undermine their relationship. Ian thinks that's nonsense, but Toula tries to keep their relationship secret from everyone. Word eventually gets out, however, and Ian finds himself meeting Toula's boisterous family, while she gets to meet his far more reserved parents, Rodney (BRUCE GRAY) and Hayley (FIONA REID).

The two eventually agree to marry, and from that point on must contend with how their families react to their relationship, meeting each other, and the pending wedding.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Although racial, ethnic and religious diversity have always been what's sustained America's "melting pot" status, there are still those individuals and groups that don't like, accept or tolerate those different from them. Often times that's simply because of blatant racism, but sometimes it's a matter of heritage and family tradition.

For instance, I've known of couples who never married and eventually split up due to the lovers having some sort of difference in their backgrounds or beliefs that turned out to be irreconcilable to them and/or their families.

It's really too bad for all involved, but there's no denying that such behavior is decent fodder for fictional tales of romantic and familial woe. Such material can be used in dramas from the likes of "Romeo and Juliet" to "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," or in comedies such as this week's release of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."

Based on the one-woman show starring and written by "Second City" comedy troupe veteran Nia Vardalos - who, along with her act, impressed actors Tom Hanks and his Greek wife Rita Wilson enough to produce the picture - the film is a generally entertaining romantic comedy with Vardalos in the lead role. Although it might play its comedy too broadly, becomes too repetitive and loses much of its comedic momentum as it makes its way through the third act, one can tell that it's something of a labor of love. That helps it to be a fairly enjoyable diversion for those desirous of some lightweight comedic fare.

The tale, however, is both familiar and predictable. Toula, played with just the right comedic touch by Vardalos (who based much of the material on her own life and has appeared in little seen films such as "Meet Prince Charming" and "Men Seeking Women") comes from a loud, large and boisterous family headed by patriarch Gus -- Michael Constantine ("Thinner," "The Juror") in a very funny role and performance - and matriarch Maria who's nicely played by Lainie Kazan ("The Crew," ""What's Cooking?").

Toula's insecure due to her family's overbearing behavior and beliefs, including that Greek women should marry Greek men, have Greek babies and then cook food for all of them until the day they die, not to mention that at the ripe old age of 30, she's already well beyond her expiration date.

On the other hand, her boyfriend, Ian - played by John Corbett ("Serendipity," "Volcano") who's really just reprising his handsome, charming and caring character from HBO's "Sex and the City" - comes from a prim, proper and rather staid WASP-ish family.

They, of course, meet and fall in love, much to the collective chagrin of their respective families. From that point on, it's not hard to surmise that the comedic sparks will fly, tempered by some touching, heartfelt moments, as the two damn the familial torpedoes and sail toward the titular event.

As a romantic comedy, the film thankfully has some fresh material (for the genre) as well as some genuinely funny moments and performances. As a comedic tale of romantic woe, however, it comes up somewhat short.

After a rather entertaining flashback series featuring the summarized early life of the protagonist (as accompanied by some amusing and funny voice over narration), the film settles into its main plot. Somewhat surprisingly, however, it starts to run out of steam about midway through and offers a relatively weak comedic climax in the form of the anticipated wedding.

It's almost as if Vardalos and director Joel Zwick ("Second Sight" and many TV shows) simply ran out of material and most of the better gags by the time they guided the story and its characters up to the big day. To cover for that, they simply return to some of the previous material - such as his conservative parents being shocked by her wild and loud family, or that of her diminutive but feisty grandmother continually thinking she's been kidnapped and repeatedly trying to run away - that naturally but unfortunately isn't as funny the second or third time around.

Thankfully, Vardalos and Corbett's characters make for a cute couple, the chemistry between them works, and it's fun to see Toula break free from her "Ugly Duckling" and/or Cinderella-like trappings. Beyond the fairly entertaining main performances, the supporting ones from the likes of Louis Mandylor ("Price of Glory," "Necessary Roughness"), Andrea Martin ("Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius," "All Over the Guy") and Gia Carides ("Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me," "Primary Colors") are decent, even if some of their and others characters are caricatures, too one-dimensional, or not as amusing or funny as they might have been.

If viewers aren't looking for anything remotely sophisticated and don't mind the broad, repetitive comedy or potentially offensive stereotypes, they might just find themselves enjoying this lightweight film - to some degree - even if it eventually runs out of steam and doesn't consistently live up to its fun opening. "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed May 6, 2002 / Posted May 10, 2002

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