Is The Sequel Able To Capture The Charm Of The Original 14 Years Later?
Nia Vardalos has waited 14 years to pen another story of about Toula Portokalos and her funny and loving, if not suffocating, Greek family. The original film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a smash hit and success and even spawned a television spin-off, but never a sequel. Recently, Nia, who also stars as Toula, said that she wanted to write a story that wasn’t just a sequel based on the success of the original film, but one that had a story that was compelling enough to tell. We now have that film in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.
Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine, Everybody’s Fine, Nanny McPhee) takes over directing duties from Joel Zwick who is better known for directing episodes of Full House, and Perfect Strangers in the 1980’s and 1990’s. As a result, the sequel feels a little more cohesive like a feature film should be, and less like a made for television movie, that was one of the drawbacks of the original film. What is consistent here, despite the 14 year gap is the sharpness of Nia Vardalos’ writing, and how she is able to convey the family experience we all have had as we look at her life inside the hyperbolic depiction of her Greek family.
With a 14 year gap, the actors, and as a result the characters, have certainly aged from the first movie to the new one. When this happens, many sequels try to still squeeze youth out of their cast to try and recapture whatever perceived magic they think there is in that, weakening the overall brand as a result. Here, this story allows for natural aging to happen and seeks to find new jokes and quirks to highlight rather than simply trade on the old ones. You will occasionally see Michael Constantine’s character Gus (Opa) still using some Windex, but the film never seeks to recapture the original humor of that gag. It is simply a part of the character now, allowing Gus to find new quirks to explore as his character has continued to age. The same can be said of Lainie Kazan’s character Maria.
Despite some of the flaws of this film, what it does get right is allowing the family to continue to grow and develop, allowing the characters to face new age-appropriate problems that seem natural and organic.
This feels more like a continuation of a story in progress than an attempt to bring back the cast as an attempt to recreate the original. For this, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is to be commended.
For the new film, we find Toula and her non-Greek husband Ian (John Corbett) raising their teenage daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris). Toula has slowly been becoming the suffocating type mother like Maria whom she was rebelling against in the original story. As her daughter is about to graduate high school and head off to college, Mom can’t seem to let go. Facing empty nest is a real issue and this film looks at the conflicts that go along with it with the charm and humor that made the first film such a beloved movie.
Toula’s fears of losing the role of hands-on mother has affected her relationship with her daughter, where Paris wants to escape the suffocating family style as much as her mother did before. It also correctly shows the struggle Toula has rediscovery the identity she had as a couple, and just being with her husband Ian. The film tries to remind us that before she was a mom, she was a girlfriend. Both are important identities and for a while one relationship has dominated to the detriment of the other.
The film also follows the eccentric parents Gus and Maria as they discover a problem with their marriage situation from 50 years before that allows for their stubborn ways to take center stage. Michael Constantine is hilarious and this conflict seeks to show us the importance of continuing to pursue our loved ones no matter how much time we’ve been in a relationship with each other.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a Greek Wedding picture if the entire extended family didn’t surround every moment and suffocate the life out of you with hilarious interactions and family dynamics that will be relate-able to individuals of any age. Producer and actor Rita Wilson and John Stamos also show up to add to the fun.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 will be a huge hit for those who fell in love with the charm and characters of the original film and will find acceptance with a new audience who are OK can relate to the eccentric nature of a large, robust, and overly involved family and the challenges that come as we age. While young people probably won’t consciously seek this out, they will be able to laugh if they find themselves seeing it. And despite it taking a long time to have a sequel, Nia Vardalos was wise enough to wait until she had something to truly say with these characters before writing a new chapter. If only Hollywood took the same approach with every property that audiences grow to know and love.