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Saturday, September 18, 2021

‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2’ and the fine line between comedy and mockery

KIRK K / FLICKR
KIRK K / FLICKR

Growing up Greek is a one-of-a-kind experience.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding, released in 2002, embodied the real struggles of every first generation Greek American girl (like me) out there. While some things were exaggerated in this film (like the Greek flag painted onto the Portokalos family’s garage door), I never found any of the content offensive. Actually, almost everything was true of the traditional Greek family as far as I knew it. There was the fiercely protective father, who, more than anything in the world, wanted his daughter to marry a “nice Greek boy” to the over-the-top festivities featuring busy-body aunts, every Greek dish you could imagine and blaring ethnic music.

You can understand why I was so excited for the movie’s sequel, which was released last Friday.

While I sort of knew, deep down, that sequels are never as good as the original film, I held out hope that over the last decade, the film’s writer, Nia Vardalos (who also plays the lead character, Toula Portokalos, in both films), had taken the time to craft an equally hilarious and realistically depicted sequel. But alas, I walked out of the screening with mixed emotions.

Despite some generally comic and heartfelt portrayals of the family dynamic, which were mostly derived from the first film (like the Windex remedy and Toula’s daily carpools with her father), in the sequel, Vardalos took good humor about Greek culture to an obnoxious level.

She tried too hard to entertain, and her effort wasn’t fruitful. It felt like an ugly parody, which was obviously disheartening.

So, to set the record straight, here’s a list of truths and exaggerations in the film:

  • What’s true: Greek families often live in close proximity to each other, even on the same street.

Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I lived two houses over from my cousins. And a slew of other aunts, uncles and cousins lived within a five-mile radius. It was perfectly normal.

  • The horrible exaggeration: We don’t engineer our homes to look like Greek island villas (i.e., no white stucco exteriors and giant blue domes).

While the film’s depiction of older Greeks having some, well, garish tastes in clothes and home decor isn’t totally inaccurate from my point of view, Toula’s sister’s home, which featured a white exterior and large blue dome (likely modeled after the blue domed church in Santorini, Greece), was a gross exaggeration.

  • What’s true: We are certainly close-knit, and it’s often difficult to keep any important details under wraps.

Greek parents and children never stop being involved in each other’s lives. For example, even at 21 years old, I pretty much tell my parents everything, because I know they’ll find out regardless (they have their ways).

  • The horrible exaggeration: Greek kids usually don’t worry about 20 or so family members showing up at a college fair.

It’s true that most big milestones in a Greek kid’s life are well-documented because we always have a plethora of relatives standing by (10 of my relatives are scheduled to fly in for my June graduation). Still, families don’t make such dramatic appearances at low-key events, like Toula’s family made at her daughter’s college fair.

  • What’s true: Greek grandmas are always associated with good food.

I can’t really explain this one. It could be that their mastery comes from years of experience, but, in any case, it’s rarely contested that grandmas are culinary sorceresses.

  • The horrible exaggeration: Those same grandmas don’t hide in obscure places or creepily stare at you in silence from the corner of the room.

One of the most irksome parts of the movie? When they show Toula’s grandmother dopily sitting under a table at the college fair with a platter of spanakopita. It felt like Vardalos was making a comment on the lunacy of the Greek elderly, and it was rather distasteful.

More than anything, it seemed as if Vardalos was more interested in channeling comedy, and it came at the expense of her credibility as a Greek American.

Of course, there’s something to be said about exaggeration for the sake of making a point about broad truth, but My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 exaggerated for the sake of getting a laugh.

You can reach HAYLEY PROKOS at hprokos@ucdavis.edu or on Twitter @haroulii14

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