In 2002, a little movie called My Big Fat Greek Wedding surprised the HELL out of Hollywood by becoming the 5th highest grossing film of the year. The other four films to make that list? Spider-Man. The Two Towers. The abomination that was Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. How did a little independent romantic/family comedy manage to crack the ranks of blockbuster franchises? Honestly, I think Hollywood is STILL scratching their heads at that one. But I think it’s because movie-goers deserve more credit that the studios give them. MBFGW is one of those special movies that manages to grab the hearts of the public at large without even intending to. It’s such a special movie with so much heart and snappy dialogue and a story that appeals to EVERYONE. Sixteen years, Nia Vardalos and company are attempting to capture the magic with My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, so Sage and I thought it was a perfect time to look at the original and attempt to dissect why it worked so well the first time. Time will tell if the sequel will capture the hearts of the public, but the original will ALWAYS remain special in my heart because it made me believe in the power of quality over sparkle. Not that MBFGW isn’t sparkly…because my God, it still dazzles ME always. – Kim
1) A 30-year-old Heroine Who Comes of Age
What makes MBFGW stand out in the sea of Romantic Comedies is the fact that Toula isn’t a 20-something Type-A high-strung gal who works in advertising or at a magazine. She’s not clumsy because it’s cute and she’s not bemoaning the fact that she hasn’t met “the one” so she can start having babies. She’s 30 years old and she just wants MORE out of her life. She’s always been the dutiful daughter, giving everything to her family without sparing a thought for herself, because that is what is expected of her. What makes Toula a magical romantic comedy heroine is that she decides to take charge of her life and she does it for HERSELF. She doesn’t enroll in classes so she can meet a man, she does it so she can expand her horizons. She doesn’t start taking pride in her appearance to snag a man, she does it so her outside reflects the confidence she has found inside. Of course, given that this is a movie, she DOES find the man of her dreams, but that was never her end goal. She wanted a different life and she made it happen for herself. Hero. – Kim
2) A Charming AF Leading Man
If we’re talking Carrie Bradshaw, I will argue Mr. Big until I am blue in the face. But that’s no shade to the lovely John Corbett, so perfect here as Toula’s first (?) and best boyfriend. When Ian first sees the new and improved Toula, she’s working away in her aunt’s travel agency, buzzing from one task to the next. She’s killing it and she knows it. And he smiles, because he sees this light inside her.
From that moment on, Ian is the perfect guy. This isn’t a rom com in the sense that some 11th hour misunderstanding threatens to break the couple up. Ian Miller (“Xeno with big, long hairs on top of his head.”) is a manifestation of a dream come true: a mate who becomes enchanted at the exact time Toula is feeling herself the most; a low-maintenance suitor who endures mortifying family insanity with a smile (okay, partly because he secretly loves it); and the dreamy guy who hints to Toula that, given the chance, he probably would have fallen in love with the grandma glasses version of her too. (“I don’t remember Frump Girl, but I remember you.”) Ian Millers of the world, show yourselves. I just want to spend a little tiiiiimmmme…with you. -Sage
3) It’s an Ensemble Full of Fully Defined Characters
The comparisons to Moonstruck run rampant when you talk about MBFGW but where I see the biggest similarity is in how the ensemble is built. Much like Loretta’s sprawling Italian-American family in Moonstruck, much of the appeal in MBFGW lies in the Portakalos family and all its distinct and sharply drawn characters. They all walk the VERY fine line of being a caricature as each family member has their defining trait (Gus and his devotion to his culture, Maria’s mama-bear attitude, Nikki’s brazenness, Nick’s dumb beefcake) but they never feel like one because all of the actors play their roles with such dedication. Everyone feels REAL. Everyone gets a moment to shine. It’s the true definition of ensemble. These kind of ensembles are so rare and that’s what makes this film so special. – Kim
4) Andrea Martin Is FLAWLESS
Andrea Martin is a comedic treasure, and I have a sneaking suspicion that Aunt Voula and I could really cause some trouble together at Portakalos family events. At the very least, Aunt Voula is the kind of relative you want on your side. She and Maria work Gus over like they’ve done it a million times before (“Tell me what to say, but don’t tell me what to say.”), paving the way for Toula to escape her drab daily existence. Always dressed to the nines, Aunt Voula appoints herself Portakalos ambassador to the Millers, putting them at ease with tales of her medical woes. (“Inside the lump he found teeth and a spinal cord.”) She doesn’t even mind that Ian is the first vegetarian to marry into her clan. (“It’s okay. It’s okay, I make lamb.”) Andrea Martin is the seasoned comedienne of this cast, and she brings it. -Sage
5) Best Product Placement EVER.
There is product placement and there is PRODUCT PLACEMENT. So often, blatant product placement makes me cringe. “Hey, let me drive you somewhere in this Ford Fiesta. Aren’t the seats comfortable? They are genuine leather.” GAG ME. Gus and his devotion to Windex as a cure-all are the exact opposite of cringe inducing product placement. It’s the rare kind of product promotion that feels completely organic and in character. It’s so ridiculous that it works. It’s a spectacular running gag that culminates in Ian using Windex to get rid of a wedding day zit. I may have never TESTED the Windex theory, but damnit if I don’t believe it. That, my friends, is how you successfully shill something. – Kim
6) It’s Incredibly Feminist
“But Sage,” you ask, “How feminist can a movie about a big church wedding really be?” Very, actually, especially because MBFGW addresses empowerment in a specific context. Toula’s family – especially Gus – spout a lot of problematic declarations about what a woman can and should do with her life, and every one of those statements is grounds for a lecture about gender politics and equality. But most of us don’t live in a Gender Studies text book; we live in the real world with people whose beliefs and values stem from different experiences. It doesn’t mean that we (the bloodthirsty feminists) shouldn’t be working towards making ourselves understood. It means that sometimes, going out and doing the thing is more effective and less combative than arguing in absolutes. Toula loves her family. She loves her dad, and she knows without one doubt that all his harping on her marriageability has to do with his Old World ideas of a father’s duty to make sure that his daughters will be secure and well taken care of when he’s gone. It drives her fucking crazy, but she would never dream of dropping a match and burning that bridge. Instead, Toula fights for ability to choose: her career, her husband, and her life, hoping and expecting that her conservative relatives will come around and back her up. And wouldn’t you know it? They do.
It’s also worth noting that Maria supports Toula’s decision to go back to school the second her daughter mentions it. (“I gave you life so that you could live it.” Kill me.) And she takes such pride in her own accomplishments – raising her family, yes, but her business acumen too. (She also gives Toula a short speech about wedding night sex that may be awkward, but is also wonderful because it’s about being active and fearless and ENJOYING IT.) Is this movie the picture of progressiveness? Certainly not. But it refuses to kick women who’ve chosen a traditional family life out of the feminist clubhouse, and proves that strength comes in many, many forms. -Sage
7) The Core Message is One of Self-Acceptance
As much as MBFGW is about Toula taking ownership of her life, it’s also about her learning to fully love herself and her culture. For so much of the movie, Toula is worried that Ian loves her IN SPITE of her family when in actuality, he loves her BECAUSE it’s a part of her. You know the whole saying that you can never fully love someone else until you love yourself? Toula spends so much of the movie being embarrassed by and afraid of how Ian views her family that you can SEE even though she loves Ian, she’s in constant fear of him deciding that she’s not worth the fuss. You see that burden of fear lift throughout the movie as not only does Ian not run for the hills but he embraces her culture with open arms (even when he fully doesn’t understand it). I think it’s important to note that I don’t think Toula is ever ASHAMED of her culture and her family. She’s not. But she also knows that her family is a LOT and lesser people aren’t able to handle it, which is why she tries to keep it separate as long as she can. It’s so lovely to see her relax into her Greekness as the movie progresses because she realizes how much it makes her HER, you know? (Personally, I relate to this HARD because I’ve been called “too much” in the past. It’s only when I realized that the answer to that is ACTUALLY “If I am too much then YOU are not enough.” that my life got SO MUCH easier. I may not be Greek, but whoever I end up with is going to LOVE that I get so invested in fictional couples that I cry about them on the regular and that I consider 4 British Pop Stars my sons…even if they don’t understand it. Because that makes me ME. )
One of my FAVORITE moments of the movie takes place right after Toula and Ian’s church ceremony. They have just been pronounced husband and wife and they pile into their getaway limo. They look at each other and then they just start LAUGHING at Toula’s ridiculous cupcake dress and her clown make-up. It’s so joyous and lovely and sweet because at the end of the day, Toula and Ian are going to spend their lives together and it doesn’t matter what her wedding dress looked like. They can give her family the wedding they wanted because family is family. And make-up can be wiped off and bows can be ripped off for the reception. But your culture and your family? That’s forever. –Kim
8) Dialogue That Is FOREVER Quotable
“I had to go to Greek school, where I learned valuable lessons such as, ‘If Nick has one goat and Maria has nine, how soon will they marry?'”
“We told my grandma the war was over, but she still slept with a knife under her pillow.”
For the most part, the MBFGW script avoids the set-up/joke, set-up/joke structure of your more formulaic comedies. Even the lines that stand out 14 years later come from conversational scenes that do double duty: they advance the plot, or provide priceless characterization. Better still, the dialogue in this movie is just kooky enough to be completely authentic, like Nia Vardalos lifted full sentences from her own family gossip sessions. And, let’s be real, she probably did. -Sage
9) It’s a Passion Project That Connected with the Masses
What makes MBFGW such a unicorn in moviedom is the fact that it was never intended to be the massive movie that it became. It started off as a one-woman show (I WOULD HAVE DIED TO SEE IT) and when Hollywood started circling it, it went nowhere because Nia Vardalos REFUSED to Hollywood-ize it and make it “marketable”. Enter Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks who offered to produce it and allow it to stay true to Nia’s vision (proving their impeccable taste). The movie was made for a cool 5 million and all of the actors who did it clearly didn’t do it for the money. It was a bunch of non-superstar actors just making a movie for the FUN of it (John Corbett was arguably the biggest star at the time, as he was in the middle of Sex and the City). They did it because they loved the script. The amount of LOVE that went into this movie shows in every frame and I think THAT is why it connected with the masses. It was a movie that grew from word of mouth not through a massive marketing campaign. It allowed its story and its charm to speak for itself. So often movies are shoved down our throats with their special effects and their movie star casts and the nick to check off the boxes that appeal to every demographic that they neglect to tell actual stories. MBFGW never tried to be anything it wasn’t. It was always just a sweet story about family and finding love that happened to have an AMAZING script and a fantastic cast that embodied their characters to the fullest. I think the movie-going public was DESPERATE for a movie like this one and it stood out in the sea of Superhero movies, Bro-Comedies, and heavy Adult Dramas. It was a charming but not mindless little movie that the entire family was able to enjoy. Quite simply, movies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding are few and far-between and I wish Hollywood made movies like it more often. – Kim
10) Joey Fatone, Actor
2002. *N Sync was just embarking on their last (*weep*) world tour, and the boys were starting to dip their toes into other industries. Joey had only done a couple of movies before going Greek, including the masterpiece of a pop star vehicle romantic comedy, On The Line. (He co-starred with bandmate Lance Bass. There are plot holes bigger than my apartment. I would die for it.) Joey may be Brooklyn Italian, but he slips right into the Portakalos family in his small role as gregarious, rough-housing cousin Angelo. To be honest, his few minutes of screentime were probably the reason I drove 45 minutes to the “indie” theater that was showing this and back again for round two. Until that point, when I’d imagined a boy bander at my own wedding, he was usually the groom. But I could live with this too. -Sage
Are you seeing My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2? Share your love of the original with us in the comments before you do. And BRING TISSUES. We’re just looking out for your mascara.