THE STORY – Members of the Portokalos family reunite in Greece for a hilarious and heartwarming trip full of love, twists and turns.
THE CAST – Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Louis Mandylor, Elena Kampouris, Gia Carides, Joey Fatone, Lainie Kazan & Andrea Martin
THE TEAM – Nia Vardalos (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 92 Minutes
The first, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” was one for the record books. When it was first released in 2002, the family comedy, written by and starring then-little-known Canadian actress Nia Vardalos, was expected to have a short theatrical life and disappear from theaters. Except it didn’t.
As the box office unexpectedly rose week after week and more screens were added, the indie film became a social phenomenon, lasting in theaters for nearly a year. To this day, the film, which has earned $241 million (unadjusted) domestically, remains the biggest-grossing romantic comedy in film history as well as the highest-grossing film never to reach number 1, a record it held for 14 years until it was supplanted by 2016’s “Sing” and eventually by 2023’s “Oppenheimer.”
It also remains the gold standard for a word-of-mouth hit, earning Vardalos an Oscar nomination for her original screenplay, as well as birthing a 2016 sequel and a 2003 CBS sitcom. Unexpectedly, a franchise was born and now continues with “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3,” a sequel demonstrating, if nothing else, just how far this franchise has fallen.
In the seven years since “Greek Wedding 2,” family patriarch Gus Portokalos (played by the late Michael Constantine, who is sorely missed here) has died, with his ashes resting on the mantel of his wife Maria (Lainie Kazan) who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Daughter Toula (Vardalos) has received an invitation to a reunion in Gus’ home village in Greece, and she wants to go to pass along her father’s precious diary to his three best friends there. Soon, Toula, her husband Ian (John Corbett), daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris), Aunt Voula (Andrea Martin), and the gang are off to Greece for the big reunion. Unsurprisingly, hijinks ensue.
They are met at the airport by the village’s young, non-binary mayor, Victory (Melina Kotselou), who takes them to the mountaintop village, whose entire population is a grand total of six, none of whom are Gus’ old friends, leaving the travelers at a loss. Here’s where the film’s narrative splinters and its problems begin, as the characters spin off into their own storylines — Uncle Nick (Louis Mandylor) is looking for the town’s oldest tree, Paris is trying to ditch her ex-boyfriend Aristotle (Elias Kacavas) whom Voula has brought along as her assistant, and yes, per the title, there is a new wedding. However, it’s between two relatively minor characters whom we hardly get to know. If there’s a throughline connecting all this, it’s that all families have secrets, though some should really be shared. It’s not the most gripping of ideas, but it does in a pinch.
However, what’s really missing in the film, which was both written and directed by Vardalos, is…Nia Vardalos. Her Toula was the key to the success of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” as audiences loved seeing the ugly duckling shake off her dowdiness, land the partner of her dreams, and become the strong woman that was always there inside her. Even in “Wedding 2,” as an overprotective mom to Paris, we were rooting for her to succeed. But here, after organizing this big adventure, Vardalos allows Toula to fade into the background, perhaps in an attempt to allow the rest of her cast to shine. But their characters popped in the first film because of how they reacted to Toula, and with Vardalos demoting her character to the B or even the C storyline in the movie, her crucial presence is reduced, leaving us without the rooting interest that made this series work.
Still, the film is not without its strengths. Corbett remains, as always, amiable eye candy. Martin knows where every joke is buried and lands them all, and even though Gus is no longer with us, his obsession with Windex is given a loving nod. But they’re not enough to provide this third chapter a reason for being, leaving this franchise like the lone wedding guest who doesn’t realize the reception is over.