More than twenty years ago, Nia Vardalos’s independent romantic comedy “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” — a Cinderella story of a burdened and awkward woman Toula (Vardalos) falling in love with a non-Greek man at the dismay of her extended Greek family — smashed box office record after box office record, grossing more than seventy times its budget worldwide. Vardalos was nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar, and the film inspired both a spin-off television show and a less-than sequel in 2016. Now, Vardalos is back, with her fictional Portokalos family behind her, for a third entry in the series. Does the franchise still have the magic and charm of its original?
Well, a little vacation never hurt anyone, or at least not seriously, and once the Portokalos family arrives in their native Greece, you’re left wondering why they’ve been trying, for so many years, to fix all their problems with weddings. Let’s get these guys up and off somewhere so they can relax and joke and have a good time for once. It’ll do them—and the audience—some good.
Writer and director Nia Vardalos returns to the Portokalos well, reuniting with beloved and be-loathed family members on a pilgrimage back to their father’s little town in Greece. Accompanying her are her husband Ian (John Corbett—always having fun) and her daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris), as well as her brother Nick (Louis Mandylor), aunts Voula and Frieda (Andrea Martin and Maria Vacratsis, the latter of whom also appeared in Greek pilgrimage camp classic “Mamma Mia Here We Go Again”), as well as their “helper,” Aristotle (Elias Kacavas), a young man from NYU who just so happened to have been ghosted by Paris their previous semester.
Previous installments of the “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” enterprise have pit the members of the Portokalos family against each other, generation against generation, gender against gender, determined once and for all to figure out who is most insane and who is most normal. Perhaps that’s why it’s such a welcome surprise that “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” has the Portokalos family working together for once. In the aftermath of the death of the family patriarch Gus (Michael Constantine—who passed away in 2021), Toula takes a handful of relatives with her to Greece with the hopes of finding Gus’s childhood friends to whom she can leave his journal.
Armed with an invitation to a vague family reunion in his hometown, Toula and company arrive in Greece where they’re picked up by the mayor of their father’s town Victory (Melina Kotselou) who promises everyone is on their way despite things being a little rundown and deserted. Maybe it was all just wishful thinking: showing up in Greece with the hope of family lineage being solved (haven’t any of these characters seen the “Mamma Mia” movies?). Thankfully, a convenient, family secret comes to light, however, forcing everyone to stick around a little while longer. Big questions loom overhead: Will the reunion happen? Will Toula find her father’s friends? What will become of the Portokalos family as one generation fades away?
Vardalos, an alum of Chicago’s Second City comedy theater, is at her best when arming her fictional family members with bits and jokes: Luckily, despite the film’s weightier subject matter, there are a lot of laughs to go around. Nick scours the island in search of the biggest tree. The aunts try out a little Greek voodoo for Paris’s love life. Paris and Aristotle flirt and make up. Ian befriends a monk. Toula gets a little too drunk searching for her father’s friends. Most of the events in the film are trifling out of context, but what the Portokalos family is really doing is seeing if there’s somewhere they all finally fit in—warts and all.
The awkward hump in the past films was that Vardalos was neither all the way committed to Toula being the family’s straight woman nor their scold, straddling the line in an unfunny sort of way. In “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3,” Toula relents to her fate: she might just be as crazy as the rest of her family. In a film that deals as much as it does with lineage and history, it’s almost moving to see Toula embrace all that makes her Greek. She is overbearing and over-involved; for all her feigning indifference, she cares more than anyone else about the well-being of those around her. As her parents age, struggle, and eventually die, she may have to take up the helm of the Portokalos family. Better to embrace it with love sooner than later.
“My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” is sillier and warmer than the film that preceded it, full of surprises and reveals and candied almonds. At my screening, I happened to find myself seated next to a child—what his familiarity was with the franchise I didn’t get a chance to ask. At every big gag, he shook his head and laughed, “These people are crazy!” That the hijinks of the Portokalos family appeal to yet another generation is proof that it’s not just them who are crazy, but us, too, for loving them just as they are.
Focus Features’ “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” opens in theaters Sept. 8, 2023.
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