With My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Film Finally Reaches Peak Reboot
The sequel to 2002’s sleeper hit probably should have left the knot untied.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is being released over the same weekend that brings the launch of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. This feels, in its way, fated. Here we’ll be, with an epic battle on our hands: not just superhero versus superhero, but franchise versus franchise, genre versus genre, each one vying to become the film that will do the thing that previous, and very worthy, entrants—Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Jem and the Holograms, Battleship, any of the thousands of other films that conflate celebration of the past with cynicism about it—have failed to do: to take us, via a brazen belief in the power of nostalgia and a deep insistence on the circularity of time, to Peak Reboot.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding was the sleeper hit of the early aughts: With a relatively unknown star and a $5 million budget, it ended up becoming, against all odds, a big fat Greek smash. “The film,” FiveThirtyEight notes, “spent almost a year in theaters and earned more than $360 million (inflation-adjusted) at the domestic box office to become the second-highest-earning romantic comedy in history (behind Pretty Woman).” The plot, if you don’t recall, was appealingly simple: Toula (Nia Vardalos), a hardworking and devoted daughter of Greek immigrants, falls in love with a non-Greek guy named Ian (John Corbett). They decide to get married. Toula’s meddling, overbearing family—walking cliches, each and every one of them, but charming nonetheless—meddles, overbearingly. Many jokes about Greek American culture later, Toula and Ian tie the knot. The end.
The first film was fluffy and forgettable, but it was redeemed by two things: first, its originality—the sense, permeating the film, that it was the writer and producer Nia Vardalos’s quirky and loving and deeply authentic tribute to her own wacky family—and, second, its formulaic adherence to the time-honored traditions of the rom-com. Those two disparate things ended up (also against all odds) complementing each other. My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a big hunk of baklava: layered, nutty, shockingly sweet. Not the kind of thing you’d want to have every day, definitely, but totally fine in moderation.
All of that helps to explain why My Big Fat Greek Wedding, despite its box-office success, did not go on to enjoy the afterlife, on cable and elsewhere, that its fellow successful rom-coms—Pretty Woman, Love Actually—did. It also helps to explain why Vardalos tried to make lightning (Greeced lightning?) strike twice, spinning the movie into a TV show, My Big Fat Greek Life. (The show’s life was very, very short.)
It also helps to explain why, some 14 years after the original came out, the team has gotten back together for a feature-film sequel to My Big Fat Greek Wedding: the bluntly named My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. And here is the case for that film claiming the title, from the laconic clutches of Batman v Superman, of Peak Reboot: It manages to rehash the original, almost entirely, while lacking nearly all the things that made the first film, despite its flaws, compelling.
The new Wedding finds Toula, now a mother of a 17-year-old daughter (who is named Paris), grappling with Paris’s impending departure for college. It also finds Toula grappling with what an empty nest will mean for her marriage to Ian, which has, in general, sacrificed passion to partnership. Toula,too, is grappling with the fact that, despite the independence she won for herself in the first film, she remains in the thrall of her Big Fat Greek Family. (The film is not subtle about this. As Toula narrates: “Families that are close, like mine, we make it through bad economies, and sickness, and war, because we stick together. But some of us just get stuck.”)
The big twist (spoiler, I guess, though it’s revealed in the trailer): The family, through a series of accidents, discovers that the person who married Toula’s parents never signed their marriage certificate. (“I’m a hippie!” Toula’s mother shrieks with glee.) And so: Mother and father, having lived together in their Big Fat Greek House for decades, must finally, fully, get married. The multi-adjectival Wedding in question here thus belongs not to Toula (or, as the film’s promotional posters might suggest, to Paris) … but to Toula’s parents.
This trick, on the one hand, allows the film to recycle many of the gags that made the original so, well, original. Hello again, bottle of medicinal Windex. Hello again, scene of middle-aged women getting hair-curled and face-spackled in a salon. (“Greek don’t creak!” an aunt announces.) Hello again, Toula’s dad’s obsession with proving that all the world’s words derive from ancient Greek. Add to all that the fact that Paris’s prom happens to take place at the exact same time as the wedding (a prom held in the afternoon? just go with it), and you’ve given Wedding 2 the opportunity to benefit from its own circularity: There’s one particularly poignant scene that blends Toula and Ian, Toula’s mother and her father, and Paris and her prom date (who is—surprise!—also Greek) together into a lovely, intergenerational triptych. It’s the circle of life, rendered through romance (and through John Legend).
There are certainly moments of humor and sweetness in all this. It’s hard not to experience vicarious delight when you’re watching a family who loves each other dancing together at a wedding. (Also, Toula’s yiayia (Bess Meisler)—an older woman who’s perhaps not as aged as she seems—steals every scene she’s in.)
Mostly, though, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 reflects the blunt “2” in its title: It reads as perfunctory. It reads as a reboot in search of a reason. The characters are thinly sketched (Corbett, in particular, is given very little to do; John Stamos and Rita Wilson, cameo-ing as a local TV reporter and his wife, have even less). The jokes are stale. The modern-day-ish updates (Toula teaches her dad how to use a computer, a relative comes out as gay, autocorrect changes “spanokopita” to “spina bifida”) are, for the most part, more “heh” than “haha.”
The original film, too, was bolstered by the ideas it considered, ideas that helped it to resonate among people who lack a Greek family of their own: the immigrant experience, that feeling of being both too much and not enough, the broader question of what it means, really, to belong. The sequel, given its plot, might have accomplished the same thing: What happens when marriage cools into mere companionship? What happens when the put-upon daughter becomes the put-upon mom? How do you balance the demands of aging parents with those of aging children?
Those are interesting questions, but My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 doesn’t have much interest in exploring them—or, rather, it’s too rushed, and too full, to squeeze in thoughts about them between all its jokes about the “seed” of Alexander the Great. The sequel, 14 years after lightning struck the first time, is neither thoughtless nor joyless nor offensive; it is neither too complicated nor too simple. It is, simply, fine. It is, simply, there. And that, of course, is exactly what it is supposed to be: a film that exists not fully on its own terms, but as a cheerful and dutiful reminder of what came before.