A big fat word-of-mouth sleeper hit in the States, My Big Fat Greek Wedding is the one that sees apparently dowdy Chicago waitress Toula (Nia Vardalos) win man-of-her-dreams Ian (John Corbett) despite involvement of and interference from her closeknit Hellenic relatives. You know exactly where it's going from scene one frame one, but perhaps the film's light-hearted certainty was exactly what Western audiences needed to counter the dark uncertainties that followed in the wake of September 11, and that the endless cutesy scenes of lovers ducking behind watercoolers to evade someone or other were always liable to be received more sympathetically at a moment when sleeper terrorists were reported to be hiding in our midst.
It does, granted, have a certain timeless quality, though not one that necessarily ensures a classic piece of cinema: these types of films will continue to be made, and continue to be enjoyed, just as long as there are people on this planet who hate the way they look. Toula's frump duration is less than twenty minutes - something of a generic cheat, in fact - before she discovers contact lenses, Touche Eclat and what to do with her hair, but if this makeover takes on a dramatic level, it's because Vardalos makes a convincing pass at plain in the first place, which might sound like a backhanded compliment were the quality not so rare in American performers. Scrunching up a cookie and filling her cheeks with ice cream didn't do it for Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality, and hiring Avril Lavigne's stylist couldn't make Anne Hathaway any more convincing as the unwashed teen of The Princess Diaries' first act.
The star's screenplay - adapted from her own one-woman stage show - manages to be neatly structured if entirely lacking in conflict, allowing director Joel Zwick to compose the better part of the plot as a series of comic montages, illustrating rather than dramatising examples of disastrous arranged dates, and then how far Toula is prepared to let her Prince Charming go within the PG framework. The HBO logo on the credits reminds one how that network's ethnically diverse output has come to put more mainstream channels to shame: My Big Fat Greek Wedding follows close on the heels of several TV movies on the lives and struggles of prominent African-Americans (Soul of the Game), not to mention the chronicles of the modern age's most noted Italian-American clan (The Sopranos). It's still more interesting as a phenomenon than as a movie per se: one doubts contemporary American audiences would be quite as predisposed to a film entitled My Big Fat Muslim Wedding.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding is available on DVD through Entertainment. A sequel, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, opens in cinemas nationwide on Friday, and is reviewed here.