Ah to be of Athenian stock: cradlers of democracy, cookers of mezze and proud audience to My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. Fourteen years on from the release of the phenomenally successful first film, writer and star Nia Vardalos has returned to the Hellenic well and developed a sequel. Evidently the prospect of My Big Fat Greek Christening wasn’t quite right, but really – who can resist a wedding? Much time has passed since the first film, but as the tagline makes abundantly clear: ‘People Change. Greeks don’t’. Toula Portokalos-Miller (Vardalos) is almost back where she began – her family are still suffocating and her (now, married) love life has gone a bit stale.
The chief difference is that, this time around, Toula now finds herself more closely aligned with her parents – inflicting embarrassment on her own daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris) similar to that she once suffered. Of course, the film must deliver a wedding of some description and since Paris is far too young, that plot necessity is provided by Toula’s parents Maria (Lainie Kazan) and Kostas (Michael Constantine). We discover that their marriage was never properly officiated and they’ve been living in sin for over fifty years. It’s an opportunity to explore some of the prejudices in the conservative Greek community, but – big shock here – one that is decidedly not taken. The film’s greatest merit is that it sticks to a formula that so delighted its core audience previously; most of the humour is derived from ethnic idiosyncrasies which alternate between lazy and well-observed, but the film is ultimately designed as one big in-joke. Unsurprisingly, that also causes some problems.
In the original outing, we essentially got Sex and the City tailored for Greek women (so much so that Toula’s love interest was S.A.T.C. star John Corbett, back again as Toula’s husband Ian). This time around, everyone’s either married or not of marrying-age, so we have roughly the same premise but there’s no clear focus on what drives the film. A few different plot strands are woven in to try and take up the slack, but the rom-com punch is largely lost. (Weirdly, the most daring aspect of the film is how frequently its oldest characters discuss their sex lives). My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 has less broad appeal than the first film and it’s basic message – that you have to stick by family no matter what – may be a huge cliché, but its given life by Vardalos’ evident enthusiasm for her own family background. It may be corny and some of the jokes are disappointingly flat, but it doesn’t come across as cynical in the manner of some sequels. It’s just a Greek thing: not fun for all, but fun for some.