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[whitespace] Nia Vardalos
Photograph by Sophie Giraud

Monsoon-Force Wedding: When Toula (Nia Vardalos) decides to get married, her traditional Greek parents get in an uproar.

Orthodox Comedy

There are lots of movies like 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding'--but this one has Andrea Martin in it

By Richard von Busack

ONE OF THE longest-running Broadway hits of the 1920s was Abie's Irish Rose, about an Irish girl marrying a Jewish boy. Much outrage and gesticulation ensued before the families made their peace, as they must. Robert Benchley, who loathed the play, was the drama critic for a humor magazine. Weekly, he wrote up blurbs for the play, desperately trying to find something new to say about it: "America's favorite comedy. God forbid." When it closed, he wrote, "There is a play by another name supposed to be at this theater now, but you can't fool us. We know what it really is."

My Big Fat Greek Wedding rarely travels out of the well-worn rut carved for it 80 years ago: on the one hand, your immigrant culture drives you crazy, but on the bright side, you can inflict it on your kids. The jokes in My Big Fat Greek Wedding come right where you'd expect. An indie film on the surface, it's co-produced by Mr. and Mrs. Tom Hanks and has no more edge or density than a soap bubble.

Nia Vardalos plays Toula, a drab Chicago girl under the thumb of her mother (Lanie Kazan) and traditional father (Michael Constantine). When Toula jettisons her thick glasses and pulls her hair back, she lands a desirable man: a high school teacher played by John Corbett from Northern Exposure. Though Vardalos based this film on her one-woman play, she's an uncertain presence. She makes more of an impression in the sadder parts of the show, and her real forte may be tragic roles.

What's most noteworthy here is a Greek, or rather, Armenian, goddess in the cast. Andrea Martin, who plays Aunt Voula, a chic matron with a Susan Sontag-style skunk stripe in her black hair. History is not made by famous names, and that goes double for the history of entertainment. If, during the years, I've obsessed over figures like Eugene Pallette, Edward Everett Horton or Martin's old colleague from SCTV John Candy, it's because these actors get stinted in favor of movie stars. Martin's Voula has that Transylvanian certainty that the world is a melodrama and that it's up to her to pull back the curtain.

Her big scene, for all of its windup, is a minute long. The caricatured country-club WASP in-laws, queasy to the point of vomiting from all the Greek food and energy around them, are shrinking in a corner. Voula decides to defrost them by pouring a vat of ouzo in them and then giving them an unspeakably graphic description of her medical condition. Martin's inflection on a phrase like "Woe is me" is better than anything else in this film.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (PG), directed by Joel Zwick, written by Nia Vardalos, photographed by Jeff Jur and starring Vardalos, Andrea Martin and Lanie Kazan, plays at the Cinema Century 16 and 24 in San Jose.

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From the April 25-May 1, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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