Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Movie Review: My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (2016)



In theory, making a sequel to what is one of the highest-grossing rom-coms of all time makes sense; it’s like printing money at this point. Making said sequel some 16 years after the original, on the other hand? Not so much. Okay, the “X years later” formula has worked in the past to rather spectacular effect (just look at Toy Story 3) but that’s a one in a million shot. It also becomes a factor when it comes to how the public seems to have forgotten the original My Big Fat Greek Wedding. High apparent critical ratings but, judging the barometer of “people I know”, that isn’t reflected by audience reception. Me personally, if I think that the Seltzerberg parody of a film is not only funnier but smarter, something be screwy in the state of St. Louis. I don’t know if this is another Citizen Kane situation where my living in the fallout of the film makes me not able to appreciate how much it changed the scene, but somehow I really friggin’ doubt it. This is My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.

The plot: Happily married for 16 years, Toula (Nia Vardalos) is struggling to keep up with mothering her and Ian (John Corbett)’s daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris), who wants to go to college out of state. At the same time, while going through his family history, Toula’s father Gus (Michael Constantine) discovers that his marriage certificate wasn’t signed by the priest, meaning that he and Maria (Lainie Kazan) aren’t legally married. Given the family’s importance on finding partners, they begin to set up for a proper wedding for Gus and Maria.

Shortly after the original film came out, there was a sitcom spin-off greenlit by CBS called My Big Fat Greek Life. A brief sitcom spin-off, as in it didn’t even last a full season and got pulled after 7 episodes. For reasons that will forever confuse and mildly horrify me, I even remember seeing it on TV at one point. I’m pretty sure that, even in my pre-Critic youth, I still wouldn’t have sat through a full episode of the thing unless under heavy duress (read: gun at my head and a marathon of Married With Children for afterwards), but that memory is stuck there nonetheless. Where am I going with all this? Well, the original film seriously felt a feature-length set-up for a sitcom anyway; the TV route is where this entire premise, and these characters, should have stayed. 20 minute chunks? Fine, I can understand that. 90 minute overhaul? At least buy me a drink first before you screw me over. This whole movie feels like a cheesy sitcom that broke out of its televised confines and wreaked havoc in the cinema; it’s like a variant of Too Many Cooks that is somehow even more terrifying. And not even a good sitcom either. This is in the same lane as something like Full House, where mild inconveniences are the order of the day… every day and, despite opportunities for something less bland coming up between the lines of the script, everything is wrapped up in a neat little bow where no-one had to learn anything nor go through any kind of hardship. Say what you will about Fuller House, and there’s a lot of wrong orbiting that idea, but at least they had enough self-awareness to poke fun at itself. Badly, yes, but it still made the attempt.

But don’t let that trick you into thinking that this is a wholesome family romp. Don’t get me wrong, this film tries desperately hard to come across that way, but it lacks something quite important in the process of making it: Wholesomeness. I mentioned Married With Children earlier and, believe it or not, that got the idea of family togetherness better than this film could ever manage. Sure, the Bundys would literally beat up and even try to kill each other on numerous occasions, but at the end of the day they were still people who would happily fight for each other (literally and metaphorically) because, deep down, they loved each other. Compare that to this film, where the family continually takes pot shots at each other in what I presume is meant to be in that jokey “oh, you!” kind of fashion, except through either a deficiency in either the writing or the performances (or possibly both), their supposed affection and bond is non-existent. Through all the mishaps, all the new relationships that apparently need to be made, all of the musings about how this kind of extremely close-knit family is better than the traditional (read: white) alternative, not once does anyone convince that they can even stand being in the same room as each other, whether blood-related or not. Honestly, if I wasn’t so sad at the fact that Kathy Greenwood is wasting her time with this piffle, I’d be completely on her side since, you know, the Portokalos do come across like they would end up murdering each other one of these days. The closest this film got to being genuine in any way is with Angelo (Joey Fatone) and him coming out to Voula; it’s actually a pretty sweet moment. Of course, that entire sub-plot (if it was even meant to be one) is way too short and way too underdeveloped to even come close to saving anything.

Last November, I looked at a bit of local Aussie cinema called UNindian, a film that delved into Austra-Indian relations and how cultural traditions, in certain cases, can end up doing more damage to a family than good. This feels like the Bizarro universe version of that story: A film so blinded by integrated Stockholm’s Syndrome that it can’t even properly see how bad its main family truly is. As much as I really didn’t like the first film, it at least felt like Toula was (rightfully) pissed off at her family for not allowing her to live her own life. Here, as a result of the reset button being pushed as per sequel tradition, she has not only completely regressed back to the timid waif she once was but has also become the very thing that she hated to begin with: The overbearing Greek parent. The film shows some surface knowledge of this fact, largely in the form of just having Toula repeat lines from the original to Paris, but it never does anything with it. Instead, it just settles for doing the exact same routine, only for a newer generation. Most likely unintentional, but this results in some rather depressing implications being brought up about unhealthy family relationships and how, despite how some may try, they can never break free from them. Oh, my bad: This film isn’t nearly dark enough to deal with themes like that. Well, maybe if they did a better job at showing this family as actually being supportive, instead of just being something to be ashamed of and constantly mock, conclusions like these wouldn’t be so easily drawn to.

All in all, this is bad to the point of making one physically ill while watching it. Everything that kind of worked about the original film, like genuine feeling of family, is removed and everything that didn’t is cranked up to dangerous levels. This premise should only exist on TGIF line-ups and, considering that their one attempt at such a venture didn’t even reach double-digits, it seems like this officially shouldn’t go any further. I swear, if we do get yet another continuation of this series at any point, keep an ear out for some whacko in Australia shooting down TV satellites. It’s worse than Dirty Grandpa as, even with how try-hard its comedy was, it was at least clear that it wanted to make the audience laugh. I am honestly at a loss as to what this film wanted to accomplish, other than cash in on nostalgia. However, despite how grating it is, this still actually looks like a movie, which is far more than I can say for Three Wise Cousins.

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