2 stars (out of 4)
Even delightful confections are sometimes best left at single servings. Like, say, Baklava. And My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
After a lackluster 2016 sequel, talented writer-director-star Nia Vardalos has reassembled her bustling onscreen family for My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3. But if the second flick felt like a frustrating retread that failed to capture the charm of the 2002 original runaway hit, this outing just fails. Agreed that this is a shame.
There’s rich irony in that My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 features the thinnest of storylines. After the recent death of family patriarch Gus Portokalos (Michael Constantine, RIP), his daughter Toula (Vardalos) heads to the home country to give his journal to his childhood friends at some sort of reunion. (Though she speaks fluent Greek, we’re supposed to believe she’s never visited Greece until now.) Along for the trip: Her husband, Ian (John Corbett); teen daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris); wacky Aunt Voula (stand-out Andrea Martin); and her brother Nick (Louis Mandylor). Some jokes revolve around Nick’s habit of clipping his toenails at the dinner table. Other jokes poke fun at the declining memory issues of Toula’s mom (Lainie Kazan).
Once the group arrives at their destination, sitcom-like problems and hijinks ensue. Turns out Gus’ friends have all scattered. A few long-lost relatives appear with surprises in store, while others (hi again, Joey Fatone!) pop in late. A farm animal wanders into the living quarters. Voula gets drunk. (“I forgot there was alcohol in alcohol!”) And, of course, there is a wedding — this time with a Greek groom and Syrian bride. Without much comedic tension, the family happily returns to Chicago in under 90 minutes flat.
As the gloriously fun Mamma Mia!movie musicals have proven, sparkling material can indeed be mined from the confines of a beautiful Greek island. Vardalos knows this too, as her 2009 comedy My Life in Ruinswas set in Greece. But as a writer and director, she can’t quite deliver on that escapist fantasy. Instead of relying on a series of contrived subplots — in no world would the bright Paris fail her way out of New York University — she should have just let the cast relax, shine and play to their strengths.
Certainly, they all have the chops. Martin has been an ace improv singer and actress for decades, while Corbett just showed on that he can still make a woman swoon with his good-natured congeniality.(Curiously, he and Vardalos share few romantic moments.) Come to think of it, why not let Fatone pay a cheeky homage and belt out a few bars of “Dancing Queen”? It would have been funny, darn it! Or, at least, funnier than watching his Cousin Angelo and Cousin Nikki (Gia Carides) race to recline their airplane seats.
It’s worth repeating: My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a mega-successful crowd-pleaser that remains utterly relatable. Queue it up and watch it hold up. Not only did the Oscar-nominated Vardalos bring the snappy punchlines (“ew, please let that be the end of your story!”), she tapped into the deeply real issue of finding autonomy outside a close-knit family. Toula was an inspiration to all and a hilarious one at that. And while the character is still warm and well-intentioned, she’s lost most of that empathetic wit.
Alas, in 21 years, we’ve gone from Opa! to nope-a. What’s the Greek origin for the word “disappointment?”
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 opens in theaters on Friday, September 8