Viewed from afar, as an uninvolved spectator, the trials and tribulations brought on by a mixed marriage can seem a little baffling. Two people meet, fall in love and want to get married - so why should it matter if they dont come from the same ethnic/religious/cultural or whatever background? Plenty - as far as Toula Portokaloss family is concerned - especially Papa Portokalos, Gus (Michael Constantine).
Toula (Nia Vardalos), if you havent guessed, is Greek and, as she tells us at the beginning of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, this means she is supposed to marry a nice Greek boy, have nice Greek babies and then feed everybody. The End. Optional extras may include living in a house that pays tribute to classical Greek architecture - minus what it was that made classical Greek architecture great.
Toula works as a waitress (she prefers seating hostess) in the family restaurant, Dancing Zorbas where one day she goes into a mild stupor when she spies Ian Miller (John Corbett), the kind of guy Toula dreams about but doubts she will ever know. Unlike most of the aunts, uncles, cousins and other family members who descend upon the family en masse, Toula wants to do something new with her life rather than what is expected of her, so she enrols in a computer course which leads to a job at a travel agency owned by her Aunt Vola (Andrea Martin). This radical departure from convention is made possible for Toula only through the intervention of her mother, Maria (Lainie Kazan), who knows that the only way to get Gus to agree is to make him think the idea is his.
Before setting out to enjoy her slice of independence, Toula smartens up her appearance, but it is to the films credit that hers is not an unconvincing ugly- duckling-into-swan transformation - just one that is enough to attract Ians attention when he happens to walk past the agency. Toula and Ian re-meet (although he does not realise who she is at first) start dating and fall in love. When the family finds out courtesy of loudmouth cousin, Nikki (Australian actress, Gia Carides), the news hits Gus hard. (Even a quick spray of Windex, which he believes cures everything, cant fix this heartbreak for him.) When Ian asks Toula to marry him, its like the end of the world - even though Ian, who takes Toulas family and their ways in his stride - converts to their religion.
Then its Toulas turn to meet the parents, Hayley and Rodney (Fiona Reid and Bruce Gray) whose WASP-ish ways are a world away from the loud, life- embracing Portokalos. And when Hayley and Rodney are invited to Toulas home, for them its like a trip into the Twilight Zone. Even an endless supply of ouzo fails to remove the look of horror from their faces. After this encounter, Gus is more convinced than ever that this marriage is just not going to work. But its amazing what a big, boisterous and joyful Greek wedding can do to change things around.
The film, based on actress, Vardalos play, does not necessarily follow all the narrative conventions you might expect. There is a good feeling here - one that is not unsettled by any sudden, albeit improbable, change for dramatic purposes. For that reason alone, My Big Fat Greek Wedding is well worth adding to your social calendar.