When My Big Fat Greek Wedding was released in 2002, its massive box-office success came as a huge surprise, partly because such a simple, modestly budgeted indie managed to rake in so much money — $241.4 million to be exact, making it the highest grossing rom-com of all time, according to Box Office Mojo — and partly because the movie’s popularity seemed so disproportionate to its quality.
Nia Vardalos’ semi-autobiographical story, in which she played Toula, a Greek woman attempting to negotiate the intrusiveness of her extended family and a whirlwind romance with a WASPy dreamboat (John Corbett), possessed an admirably warm heart. But it also boiled over with sitcom contrivances and one-note jokes. In case you’ve forgotten, one of the film’s most enduring gags involved Toula’s father (Michael Constantine) spritzing Windex on every ailment imaginable. “Put some Windex on it,” he would say, and American moviegoers, who kept going to see My Big Fat Greek Wedding for months on end, would laugh and laugh.
Fourteen years have passed and the sequel to My Big Fat Greek Wedding — the creatively titled My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 — has belatedly arrived, with, as unbelievable as this may sound, even more sitcom contrivances and one-note jokes. Can you guess how long it takes for the first Windex reference to rear its unnaturally blue-liquid head in this movie? If you said one minute, oh, my friend, you have wildly underestimated My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. (Note: It’s more like 30 seconds.)
Vardalos, who once again wrote the screenplay and also stars, has built this sequel on the premise that everything that happened in the previous film should be recreated in the second, but in a way that feels even less organic. Hence, just as before, the first spoken lines of dialogue consist of Toula’s father saying, “You’d better get married soon, because you’re starting to look old.” But this time he’s not talking to Toula, he’s addressing her 17-year-old daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris), who’s eager to get as far away as possible from this Hellenic helicopter family. After realizing the spark in their marriage is not burning so high, Toula and Ian (Corbett) go out to dinner in a sequence designed to recreate elements of their big first date from movie No. 1, and also to allow them to once again get caught making out in a parked car. As the title promises, there is indeed another big and fat and stereotypically Greek wedding, but this time it involves Toula’s parents, Gus (Constantine) and Marie (Lainie Kazan), who embark on a rocky road back to the altar after realizing their original marriage certificate was never signed. Seriously, everything from the first movie is dragged out of storage and thrown up onscreen again, even Joey Fatone. (He plays one of Toula’s many cousins and gets a teeny-tiny subplot of his own.)
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 could have been a comedy about the way family history often repeats itself, or a sweet, slightly corny meditation on the challenge of keeping love alive in a long marriage. At times, the movie gets close to actually being one or both of those things, but it ultimately suffers from too much attention deficit disorder to have a singular point of view. Instead, the plot swings from one obstacle to another and back again to a jarring degree, while characters say and do things based on narrative convenience rather than anything approximating relatable human behavior.
The entire extended Portokalos family — roughly all 87 of them — shows up at a college fair at Paris’s high school for no reason other than to “hilariously” embarrass the poor kid in front of a Northwestern University rep played by Rob Riggle. In another scene, Ian turns to his wife and suddenly asks “When are we going to fix us?” in a way that implies their marriage is on the verge of collapse when only a few scenes prior, they were pretty happily making out in that car. In these exchanges and others, director Kirk Jones finds a way to take stilted moments and make them even more uncomfortable by holding too long on awkward reaction shots and squashing any sense of natural chemistry between the actors. Critics used to blast this sort of filmmaking approach by saying it’s more appropriate for TV than the cinema, but that’s not even true. Most TV these days is far better than this movie.
Most TV comedy these days also is a lot funnier than this movie. Case in point: Andrea Martin, a narcissistic riot in Hulu’s Difficult People, is reduced to being a hammy distraction here as the over-sharing Aunt Voula, whose long stories about her swollen tongue and one out-of-order ovary are supposed to be hysterical and really, really aren’t. Constantine and Kazan would have been wise to take down their performances by several notches, too.
The worst part about My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is that it’s the kind of movie I really wish I could celebrate. It’s written by a woman, based on an original story and, though technically a sequel, a follow-up to a movie that outperformed a lot of tentpole releases in the summer of 2002 by daring to tell a more personal, non-effects-driven story. As the relentlessly explosive Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, this film’s chief opening weekend competition, reminds us, we need more movies that tick off all of those boxes. But what we really need are more movies that tick off those boxes and are genuinely smart and entertaining. And My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, I’m sorry to say, isn’t that.