My Big Fat Greek Wedding

English Title: My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Country of Origin: USA

Studio: Playtone, IFC Films

Director: Joel Zwick

Producer(s): Norm Waitt, Steve Shareshian, Paul Brooks

Screenplay: Nia Vardolos

Cinematographer: Jeffrey Jur

Art Director: Kei Ng

Editor: Mia Goldman

Runtime: 95 minutes

Genre: Familial Dysfunction

Language: English

Starring/Cast: Nia Vardolos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine

Year: 2002

Volume: American - Independent

Toula Portokalos is stuck in a rut. Thirty, single, introverted and frumpy, her family want nothing more than to see her marry a nice Greek man and have children. Toula, on the other hand, wants more. Tricking her father into letting her take an IT course at college, Toula begins to emerge from her shell. Taking a job in her aunt’s travel agency she meets Ian Miller. It is love at first sight and he soon proposes. But Ian is not Greek and now Toula must tread the line between getting the life she wants for herself and pleasing her family.

The title of My Big Fat Greek Wedding is somewhat misleading. While the film is indeed about a wedding taking place within a Greek family, the wedding is merely an endnote – the brief conclusion to wrap up the narrative – and Toula’s romance with Ian is perfunctory at best. The fact that the family is Greek is also incidental. The problems of traditional values versus modern life could be adapted to suit any family of almost any ethnicity or religion living in contemporary America. Indeed, the ‘Greekness’ of My Big Fat Greek Wedding simply serves to differentiate the film from the milieu of family comedies. What My Big Fat Greek Wedding really hinges on is its female characters, emphasized by Toula being told by her mother that the man may be the head of the family, ‘but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.’

The focus on women is specific to the idea of women evolving over generations, with each generation taking the best bits from the one before and adding new knowledge and qualities to make it unique. This is best illustrated in the scene in which Toula’s mother and grandmother come to her to pass on some family wedding heirlooms. The three women sit on the bed framed in the bedroom mirror, each representing a stage in the evolution of the Portokalos women: Yiayia wears her traditional black clothes; Maria, Toula’s mother, is the stereotypical Greek-American mother, all big hair and loud colours; while Toula in her pyjamas and Yiayia’s wedding crown represents something new, something where tradition and modernity meet. It is Toula’s own acceptance of this vision of herself – as a point in the evolution of Portokalos women – about which the narrative pivots, rather than her family’s acceptance of Ian. As such, My Big Fat Greek Wedding is much more than a simple jumble of stereotypes and a clichéd plot. It is not a film about a woman being ‘saved’ by a man, instead it is a film about women learning from women and saving themselves.

Author of this review: Sarah Wharton