Ep 32: My Big Fat Greek Wedding

We basically dragged this movie into an alley and mugged it.  Kindest evaluation: Not a romantic comedy.  Get the podcast: [Listen here at PopD] | [Go to iTunes]

Story Analysis & Ratings:

Lucy says: NRC ~ Cute moments, sweet romantic elements, no conflict, no story.

Jenny says: Structure 2.  Comedy 2.  Romance 3.

Blog Poll Rating: TBD

Chat Transcript: My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Movie Info:

Story: A woman falls in love with a man who loves her back.  She has a boisterous family.  That’s about it. Release Date: August 2, 2002 Writer: Nia Vardalos

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26 responses to “Ep 32: My Big Fat Greek Wedding”

  1. I KNEW I liked this movie for a reason! No conflict! My favorite kind.

    (It’s okay, I’ve known that I had horrible taste in movies/TV for a long time).

  2. I didn’t re-watch the movie as this was a busy week. I recall liking it, or at least thinking it was harmless with some funny moments, but I knew it couldn’t have been an important movie for me because I only saw it once. I can see favorite movies ten times and not blink an eye. ; )
    I won’t vote. But if I did, I’d give it maybe a 3. Looking forward to next weeks movie and comments.

  3. I’m going to post this having not listened to the podcast yet (especially since I have to leave in 20 minutes and can’t cram it in now, grr), but I think the conflict in the movie is supposed to be “Oh, I can’t date you, you’re not Greek and my daddy says no!” Which is resolved–technically– pretty quickly, all things considered, in that Ian is allowed to marry into the family. The conflict, as it as, kind of morphs into Boring WASPS vs. Loud Hordes of Greeks. I think that is pretty much supposed to be the conflict all along: that GREEKS R DIFFERENT from everyone else.

    I’m not saying it’s a GOOD conflict, mind you, but I think they were trying to have one, at least.

    Upon rewatching: I think the main movie plot is in the first 40+ minutes of the movie, and then the rest of it is just Crazy Family, Watch Them Be Crazy. Eh… I do appreciate how Toula makes herself over and changes her life and look before Ian comes along, though. (Though I don’t buy her as a 30-year-old at bloody all.) I don’t think I’ve seen too many makeovers like that on screen, somehow. Though Ian’s entire character (okay, pretty much everyone John Corbett has ever played) is pretty much “Bland Friendly Nice Guy Who Will Go Along With ANYTHING” and he doesn’t have a personality other than wanting Toula to make him more interesting. Boring Prince Charming.

    By strange contrast, right before this I was watching United States of Tara, season 2 (for those who don’t watch it, John Corbett is married to a woman with multiple personalities), and while in the first season he’s his usual pretty placid self, he starts to lose it in the second season when Tara’s alters cheat on him, make trouble, etc. I rather enjoyed seeing the man lose it for a change. He could use it!

  4. I feel neutral about the movie. Not good, but I have seen worse. I come from an immigrant family and I did have an uncle who used Windex as a curative – so I could relate to that part of the film.

  5. The ending depressed me too. But I did like imagining how Toulas little girl was going to rebel when she grew up. I sincerely doubt its going to stop at just marrying who she wants. I got the impression that while Toula and Ian did not make a lot of progress for themselves they set a path for future generations to build off of.

  6. I think a lot of the structure/plot problems come from the original source: it was a one-woman show which would have been anecdotes loosely connected by time and subject, not by action. If you look at each section separately, the plotting works.

    The romance begins when she sees him in the restaurant, then the next beat is him seeing her through the travel agency window, then they do the awkward meet and begin to date, and it’s a very gentle plot curve with real emotion. Not a lot of conflict except her worrying, but still, the romance arcs.

    Or you have Toula’s woman’s journey, beginning with her father telling her she looks old, and her decision to go to school, and gradually changing her appearance as she watches the other women outside her Greek community, and getting the courage to join the cool girls table and being welcomed, and changing her job . . .the romance comes in at the end of that plot, but only because it’s the last step in Toula’s evolution. Then of course she blows it all by letting the family co-opt her wedding and her future in real estate, but I liked that she was the one who decided to change, that she did the makeover not somebody else.

    Or you have her struggle with her father–“you’re looking old,” changing jobs, bringing home a non-Greek–which she loses when she accepts the house. I think this is the part that made Lani and I drink. Father issues.

    And then it’s all tied together with a bunch of funny Greeks. Lost in all of that is a really touching subplot with her brother that’s never resolved. And none of it is in the same genre or mood: romance, woman’s journey, farce, nothing fits together.

    I don’t think you have to identify the genre of the story you’re writing, that’s marketing. But I think you need a consistent mood with a clear story line, and this movie doesn’t have it.

    Also: We did have an NRC category, and that’s what Lucy and I decided, but once we opened the project up to things that weren’t romantic comedy, it became irrelevant. I think from now on we just judge on story, not whether the movie fits a genre. However, we can judge how well it does that genre. In this case, not so much.

  7. If you look up at the top of the page, Alastair has made an index that is a thing of beauty. Put that together with the search function, and the archives are now fully accessible, I think. Let me know what you think.

  8. Upon listening to the podcast right now, I am thinking that the reason we’re all annoyed at this is that this movie may take place in the 2000’s, but really, it should have taken place in the 1950’s or uh, some earlier stereotypical time. Or perhaps in Greece.

    Because while supposedly this is the real life story of Nia Vardalos (who seems to have a lot more get-up-n-go than Toula, and Ian Gomez doesn’t strike me as being a spineless dude himself under normal circumstances), it really, really doesn’t at all fit in the modern era. I get the impression from this that Toula doesn’t have the option of standing up to her father, deciding to go to a college on her own (mommy manipulation is the ONLY way to get anything if you are a subservient woman and The Man Is The Head Of The Household), not moving into the house next door, etc. That DOES NOT EXIST in her head because she has been so raised that you do not escape your family, you can’t, you can’t stand up to them, they will get what they want because there’s more of them, they’re pushier than you are, and family is your everything, whether you like them or not. I don’t think she hates them, per se, I’m not sure if it would even occur to her to hate them. I think her primary feelings towards them are that she is a loser for not fitting in and having gotten married at 18, and thus that’s where any resentment she has comes in. It drives her nuts that her family doesn’t fit with the rest of the world, and that she doesn’t fit with them either, but once she gets married, she now officially fits, so Everything Is Okay Now. She can’t live the life of a modern woman who says, “I’ll go pick my own bridesmaid’s dresses” because in a stereotypical traditional Greek family, that is nonexistent. The real world of 2001 does not exist for Toula, and thus she CAN’T make the choices that any non-Greek woman would have. That clue bat hasn’t hit her yet, hell, she’s not even in the same building as that clue bat.

    And yeah, Ian isn’t realistic at all. Even the most placid of dudes is going to get annoyed at all of that SOMETIME. I like beta males myself, but even my beta exes would get steamed when my parents pulled crap on me. Maybe Ian is more gamma? delta? epsilon? He really is Boring Prince Charming, he’s there to be handsome and go along with everything, period.

    The thing about her dad is that he wants her happiness, but he can’t remotely CONCEIVE of happiness for his kid being anything but what he thinks happiness should be. By his rule of law, happiness is being married to a Greek guy and making a bunch of babies and that is it for you for eternity, and it doesn’t even matter WHAT Greek guy (look at his choices in men). If you go by that rule, you will be happy, period. The real shocker is that he eventually gives in and lets her marry a non-Greek, as long as he converts and lives as a Greek for the rest of his life.

  9. I think where the film seems most true is the aspect of Toula’s women’s journey. For many second generation immigrant women, there is often a real struggle between honoring family expectations or gender role expectations and embracing American ways of thinking. I like that she looks at herself and is intentional about some of the changes she will make. I also liked the fact that she backslides a bit. Who of us doesn’t cave in with our families – especially about something SO steeped in tradition like a wedding. My family still wishes I had married a South Asian boy – and my partner has been around for 15 years. For second generation immigrant women, you pick and choose what aspect of each culture you make your own.

    The romance is what falls flat for me. I just don’t think the story or the actors really sell this. It does seem a bit disjointed and is far less interesting.

  10. You know I’d get that Toula was completely subsumed in the Greek family except she’s so ironic about it when she talks about it. It’s like being ironic about the church and still going twice a week. Pick a lane.
    The more I think about it, I think this story has a huge tone problem. There’s Toula’s narration which is sharp and knowing, there’s Toula’s personal story which is what Jennifer and Bharti describe, there’s the romance which is pure wish fulfillment, and there are the family scenes which are farce. I think when you’re telling a story you really do have to pick a lane, not a genre per se, but a tone and a mood and a voice that all stay consistent. And this didn’t. So we invest in a Toula who’s sharp and funny but we watch a Toula who acts like a rabbit. There’s too much Huh? in this movie.

  11. I’m going to re-ask Ell’s question: I thought the poll used to have a Not a Romantic Commedy option as well. Because, I’d agree.

  12. Interesting. I love this movie. Went to the website on Monday & saw you guys had rated in NRC. I impulsively took the poll & gave it a 5.

    Then I watched it again. Still adore it, but from the perspective of how we have come to understand romantic comedy, I realized it wasn’t a romantic comedy after all. The romance was a subplot. I saw it more as a woman’s journey.

    Then I listened to the podcast & was surprised again. I didn’t have all the same problems with it that Jenny & Lani did. I got different nuances from it, but I’m okay with that. I still think it’s a successful story.

    The one that I saw very clearly was the passive versus reactive heroine. I started working on a novel about a year and half ago that had a heroine who was passive. The character came from a different story idea set in the Regency, & the premise was about stuff that happened to her that she didn’t like, but because of social & cultural contexts, she was stuck with it. When I moved her over into the new story, with it’s early-ish Victorian setting, I still had that outlook on her. She was crabby & miserable, and before very long I got really bored with her.

    But I was listening to lots of writing podcasts & reading writers’ blogs, and among other Jenny & Lani talked a lot about making characters active rather than passive.

    So I looked at my character Jane & thought, you know, give her something she wants to do, to achieve, & then make her go after it. Can’t do a lot about the culture & society she’s in, so she has to find ways to work around them. She can still be prickly & snarky & irritable, but she’s also the engine of her own life, making things happen for better or worse.

    When I started doing that, the character suddenly became much more 3 dimensional, much more fun to write. Her personality took on quirks & twists, some admirable, some not so much, but that’s because she’s had to fight battles with brick walls & sometimes comes out dented.

    The fact that she is an engine of her own life also makes her a plot engine. Stuff doesn’t just happen to her, she causes stuff to happen.

    In the movie, I see that difference between Toula and her mother. Toula is passive, you’re right. She allows her culture & her society to buffet her about and regularly gets capsized and has to come up gasping for air. Toula’s mother is a product of her culture & her society, but she’s clearly the sort of woman who is active in her own life, & finds ways to get what she wants in the context of her culture. She’s found the work arounds. I don’t necessarily ascribe to manipulation, but she figures out a way to chart a course that uses the patriarchial nature of her world to her benefit. She clearly loves her husband, but she also gets a kick out of one-upping him. Sometimes he knows what she’s doing, sometimes not, but she’s better at it than he is so she usually wins. And she uses her “super powers for good” — usually to the benefit of the family and her children.

    Every time Toula’s mother is in a scene, she steals it because that character is twisty and bendy and more dimensional than other characters.

    So I found this podcast to be immensely illuminating, and I felt validated about something that I’m doing “right” in my own work, and I got a different perspective on one of my favorite movies.

    I continue to love this blog & podcast. Jenny & Lani rock!

  13. Yep, the passive protagonist will kneecap you every time. Glad Jane got up off her butt and went after something!

    Sorry about the NRC option. I can put it back up there (especially since that’s what Lani and I gave it) but since in about a month we’re going to go off the romantic comedy standard and just look at story (something I now realize we should have been doing from the beginning), I left it off. And I’m going to go change my NRC to a real rating. Lani and I were just cranky that night.

  14. I don’t have as big a problem with this movie as others seem to.

    While from a “dry toast” family myself, I grew up with friends from traditional Greek families, and I have to tell you, the story is not as far-fetched as some may think. I had friends who were not allowed to date, even when in their 20’s (they snuck out behind their parents’ backs), who were expected to marry Greek, some of whom did go to Greece to find a nice husband, who bought houses next to or at least on the same street as their parents or inlaws… It really does happen.

    For me, while I agree this is not a romantic comedy per se, I do see it as a true Comedy in the Classical sense: it is a story wherein the protagonist is out of place with her society, and her journey is to reintegrate into her society — and, in the true Classical sense, this story ends with the expected marriage and fertility event, with both Old and New Worlds drawn together through this happy union.

    The conflict, as has been stated, is not between Toula and Ian. The conflict is between the Old World traditional values represented by Toula’s family, and the New World values that Toula wants to explore. She doesn’t hate her family, nor does she want to leave them behind her. Toula merely wants to walk her own path and to find her rightful place in society. She does this by finding her own career and her own husband — good for her. But she doesn’t achieve her place in society until she and Ian successfully celebrate a family wedding, representing their reconciliation of the Old and New World values.

    In this, I would say, it would have been nice to see Toula do more to spearhead the reconciliation between her two worlds. Mostly, she relies on her mother to sort it all out for her — to help the father accept first Toula’s new career, and then her choice of husband. Maybe we would like it better if there were a scene with Toula and her father having a little heart-to-heart, in which she assures him she doesn’t want to turn her back on her Greek family, and he assures her that his insistence on Greek values really stemmed from the ultimate desire for her happiness, but now he will accept her choices. They could cry and hug, etc. That scene is missing.

    But in the end, the purchase of the house next door represents the ultimate acceptance of Toula and Ian into the family. I don’t see this as sad or manipulative. I don’t think the characters are shallow, so much as archetypal. Ian and Toula could refuse the house or sell the house. They don’t. They want to be part of the family, and their sending their own daughter to Greek school indicates their desire to continue to combine Old World and New World values, but nurturing both in their children.

    This is a story about finding balance between cultures and values, and about adjusting expectations in the family/community, so that all actors ultimately find their happy and rightful place in society. When Ian’s parents get up to join the Greek dance at the wedding, we can see this as symbolizing the true integration of the two families.

    And reading my comments, you can probably tell that I’ve been scarred for life by literary theory. 🙂

  15. I liked this movie a lot more before I cared how to write a story. I still like it for the humor but I agree it’s not a rom com. Really, it’ll be one of those movies that I’ll watch when it’s playing on cable and I need something to watch to keep me company.

    Jenny said: The more I think about it, I think this story has a huge tone problem.

    The movie is interesting when it begins to rant but then it shows her real life and it’s about as interesting as a camera following me around doing carpool everyday. There’s no conflict. There’s no wondering why you’re there. And even if I’m complaining about dh or my friends or my mother or the state of health care* I”m still just running my mouth and going about my everyday life, like and Toula’s just a woman playing dressup and going about her own everyday life.

    * – these are just examples of things one might complain about. not that i would necessarily:)

  16. As far as the poll goes, I wouldn’t worry about it now, as I see the point of leaving it off.

    As far as starting with Romantic Commedies, versus just stories, I have found this to be immensly helpful. I think that one of the reasons I’ve only watched MBFGW once is that is did fail as a RomCom, which it was billed to be, and it was OK as a woman’s journey, but not good enough to re-view.

    As far as voting, I don’t remember it well enough to break down the votes, but overall I’m leaning to a 2.5.

  17. Julie, I think that’s where I ended up, too.

    So here’s a question: Do you miss having a post about the movie up before we watch the movie? It feels odd to me, but it does make the information much more organized and searchable (see Alastair’s index above). So I really like having only one post per movie, but it feel anticlimactic when it goes up.

  18. Watched the movie along with everyone and just got around to listening to the podcast. And I’m glad to hear that you guys (Jenny and Lucy) actually DO like some bad movies just because… well, because I was seriously worried that you could ONLY watch movies with an eye to structure and not just have an enjoyable movie experience. (This happened to some degree with me after majoring in TV production and interning at a soap opera; it took me YEARS to stop looking for boom shadows and such.)

    One of the comments above was about how this would work if it was set in the 1950s or something, and I thought that’d be a great idea, except that I knew it was a low-budget movie ($5 million) and I’m sure they couldn’t afford vintage cars/clothes/ etc on that kind of budget. But yeah, it’d have worked better — women were (expected to be) more passive then, more subservient to men, aka her dad, and etc.

    Things I agree with from the podcast and chat:
    1. Toula was too passive to be the protagonist; though she’s appealing and lovely to watch, she let the family roll over her at pretty much every turn, other than getting her mom to help out by making her dad see things their way … which is still a pretty darned passive thing to do.
    2. Not a rom-com – Even though it was supposed to be, it just wasn’t. That wasn’t the main thrust of the story, and if it was, it sure had no conflict in the romance. Girl meets boy, girl gets boy. The End.
    3. Ian was also too passive. See #1 and #2.
    4. I agree with the thought that since this came from a (semi?)autobiographical one-woman show by Nia Vardalos, that it is usually hard for people to make their real story into a STORY, unless some huge life-changing event happened to them like climbing Mt. Everest. People are just too close to the real events and characters, and it’s sooo hard to change things from your own reality to believable fiction.
    5. Tone: It was, indeed, all over the place. Some of it was lovely and sweet, some was over the top farce, some people were acting in a different movie from some of the others, though all the performances were good. Just not quite good in the same way. 😉

    Things I didn’t quite agree with:
    1. Jenny & Lucy’s vehement hate for the dad. I thought he was sort of … not an asshole, like you guys did, but more a pathetic throwback. Though I’m not quite sure why it was such a big deal for Toula to marry and “leave him” when her sister had already done the same thing. Maybe because her sister married a Greek guy, so that wasn’t considered leaving? Not sure there.
    2. Your (correct) dissing of the structure/story problems didn’t transfer over to me as far as actually disliking the movie. I still think it’s charming, even though yes, not so much with it actually being Toula’s story where she’s supposed to, as the protagonist, have an arc or learn something or … SOMETHING. So I agree with you but still will happily watch it over and over. However, it did hit home to me that if I ever try to write something along these lines that I really need to make sure whose story it is. I’m not super-worried there, because passive heroines aren’t really my bag and I doubt I’d fall into that, but motivations, actions, everything really SHOULD go toward the theme, and here it clearly doesn’t.

    If any of you can stand to watch it again, I’d suggest the commentary track. Nia talks a lot about this stuff, and you do get a sense of some of her ideas and why she did things the way she did. The makeover bit was supposed to be because she was seeing herself in a different light after going to school and being seen by others as a smart independent person, so she started to see herself in a better light and dress the part, yadda yadda. The commentary also has John Corbett and Ed Zwick but they are pretty quiet and Nia does most of the talking. She’s very sweet.

    To sum up: Another fun, informative, and educational viewing and podcast! Thanks!

  19. I really liked that she did the makeover herself from observing other people. But I never got the feeling that she was having fun discovering herself. It was as if she’d dressed for her family, and then she went to school and dressed for the people there because she wanted to be part of that group (and because it was Ian’s group). I guess I never got a sense of who Toula was as an individual, but again a lot of that goes back to her generally passive state.

    I was trying to think of an example and I had to go all the way back to Desperately Seeking Susan, when whatsherchops sees Susan’s jacket in the thrift store and buys it, and then transforms herself based on the jacket. Except that she was trying to be like Susan there. So never mind on that. Maybe Loretta seeing that dress and shoes in the store window in Moonstruck and thinking, “That’s who I want to be tonight”? Not to fit in with a group, just seeing something dramatic and sexy and thinking, “I could be that.”

  20. Dangit, I said Ed Zwick. It’s Joel. JOEL.

    Speaking of the makeover, was there a point where anyone in the family was like, “uh, wow?” because it seems that they’d really notice such a change in Toula. If there was a big moment like that (and with that family, there should have been about 20) I forget.

  21. I didn’t hate on the dad either; he reminded me of fathers of a few friends I’d had. Old World. Happily, very unlike my own.

    I see the reason for leaving off the preliminary post for the movies, but I did enjoy them. Could you put that information in the schedule, underneat the titles? Is there a way to layer it, so someone could expand on it, or collapse it if they didn’t want to see more?

    If it’s impractical though, I’ll get over it. 😀

  22. Jenny asked: So here’s a question: Do you miss having a post about the movie up before we watch the movie? It feels odd to me, but it does make the information much more organized and searchable (see Alastair’s index above). So I really like having only one post per movie, but it feel anticlimactic when it goes up.

    I miss comparing beginning perpective and after viewing but it is much easier to find the conversation that’s active. Maybe there’s a middle way?

  23. I’m late to this party, I know, but I just wanted to come and agree with Tamara. Toula is a modern American woman bound by her traditional Greek family, that’s the conflict. Structurally it could have been done better, but I still found the movie quite delightful. Not a romcom, though.

  24. I know this is kind of late in the discussion, but there is a Canadian film called Sabah that is kind of comparable. Although it is called a romantic comedy – thanks Netflix – I would not say it is a romcom. However it deals with the same issues of culture, identity and expectations from a Syrian/Muslim perspective. I think they do a better job of this in the this film, than MBFGW. It also has a hunky, blue eyed Canadian, so there is the eye candy factor going for it.