You know what is nice about this movie? There is remarkably little conflict in it. I think the first time I watched it,1 I thought that was a narrative weakness. But watching wedding movies while planning a wedding, even though they are generally romantic comedies, often feels like watching a bunch of horror films.
Because the conflicts normally depicted, which often end with the dramatic collapse of the engaged couple’s relationship hours before their wedding, is a nightmare scenario for me. So it is great to watch a movie that is pretty much just about two nice people who meet and get along well and fall in love and get married.
Lacking any conflict to drive the plot, the movie essentially becomes a series of vignettes about our heroine’s wacky Greek family. For me, these jokes are hit or miss. The broadest comedy, for example Toula’s father’s insistence that Windex can treat skin ailments, makes me giggle. But the bits that rely most squarely on “aren’t ethnic people ZANY?” fall flat.
Likewise, I have a mixed reaction to the contrast between Toula’s family and Ian’s. In some ways, I relate. Full disclosure: my family background is pretty WASPy (Well not so much the P, but that’s immaterial because I was raised without meaningful religion). I live hundreds of miles from my brother, and my sister is thousands of miles in the opposite direction. Collin’s family? Well, his parents, his aunt and uncle, and his grandparents live in three adjacent houses. The whole St. Louis family gets together for dinner on a weekly basis. (Bonus points for Judaism? Even though they haven’t displayed any zany ethnic quirks to me). So I definitely respond to things like this shot of the crowd at Toula and Ian’s ceremony:
[Luckily, our ceremony will be very nearly standing room only, so there will be no "bride's side/groom's side" silliness to embarrass me.]
But what I didn’t like as much is how Ian’s family is primarily defined by their blandness. I’m not saying the WASPs deserve a less stereotypical portrayal than the Greek characters, I’m saying that “white people are boring” is a lame stereotype. It reinforces the idea that white = without ethnicity, white = without culture; ergo, whiteness is the default state for humans; and race, ethnicity, and religion outside the confines of WASPhood are deviations from this norm. And I object to that worldview.
The film touches a bit on Ian’s family being polite and emotionally restrained to the point of absurdity, I wish that aspect had been more developed. I think those stereotypes about WASPs are more fertile for comedy, and it would generally make me feel more comfortable about the film’s sum message on ethnicity.
Switching gears, something I love about this movie is that Toula, while she starts out the movie beaten down and looking like this:
She ends up getting contact lenses and finding a more flattering hairstyle, but not because a man teaches her how to pronounce Spain or because some popular girls need a project or anything like that. Nope, she finds her self-confidence and concurrently makes herself over into a hot mama because she takes computer classes. That’s something I’d like my daughters to see in a movie when they are kids.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a strange little movie, but it was a huge hit for a reason. It’s charming and fun and happy and low-calorie. Opa!
1Which was about a week before I met Collin. Me and my sibs and my dear friend Regina spent a week in a lakefront cabin in Vermont. It was August, but cold and rainy every day. We watched the Olympics, drank beer, played card games, and watched movies from the box of VHS tapes that is as ubiquitous to remote cabins as piles of firewood.