My Big Fat Hatred of My Big Fat Greek Wedding

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The Washington Times burnishes its reputation as one of the more interesting newspapers in America with today's entertainment section, which includes a profile on former X member John Doe, a story on "reputational repairman," and an appreciation for Bunny Lake Is Missing by Otto Preminger (we loved him in Tom Wolfe's Radical Chic and rate him as the distantly third best Mr. Freeze on TV's Batman, a Black Forest ham not fit to carry George Sanders' subzero-cool jockstrap.)

The Times' also has a mixed review of the new Ashton Kutcher-Bernie Mac joint, a remake of the Stanley Kramer-Western Union message movie Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Reviewer Christian Toto–which sounds like the name of an X reunion LP to me–says that the flick starts well, with Kutcher playing the whiter-than-rice fiance who has to deal with the comedic racism of Bernie M as the future father-in-law. But alas,

[Director Kevin Rodney] Sullivan and company content themselves with making "Guess Who" a conventional comedy. In the process, they repeatedly trip themselves up with contrived setups just when they've built some story momentum.

All but gone are the telling exchanges that gave the original its socially relevant oomph. We're left with more laughs than your average romantic comedy but a nagging sense of an opportunity lost.

Whole review here.

Which brings me to my real point: Why the fuck was My Big Fat Greek Wedding so popular and so well-reviewed? The ethnic tension/haw-haws at the heart of this tedious, unfunny, and totally lame film were dated back when the Italians controlled the Greek Empire, for christ's sake. Or in any episode of the early '70s science fiction situation comedy Bridget Loves Bernie, predicated upon hilarity ensuing when a rich Irish Catholic girl marries a philosophizin' working-class Jewish cabbie (the science-fiction element of the show? David Doyle, best known for playing Bosley, the fifth-sexed eunuch on Charlie's Angels, plays Bridget's father).

So what might explain the phenomenal B.O. and Golden Globe-glomming success of My Big Fat Greek Wedding? The godawful product-placement gag about Windex? Pent-up demand for a post-Room 222 Michael Constantine? The secret fact that there was a suppressed electoral landslide for Michael Dukakis?

It just doesn't make sense. Except in the ways that markets always make sense. And 50 million Elvis fans can never be wrong.

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  1. My wife and I have had the same question. We believe that it’s popularity was a direct result of AMERICA LOSING IT’S MIND AFTER 9/11.

    No, really: It’s a warm and fussy, non-challenging farce. What better way to put Americans back into the coccoon?

  2. Speaking of remakes and racial dynamics, has anyone seen previews for the new Honeymooners movie? It’s apparently pretty faithful to the source material – Ralph Kramden, a bus driver, and his sewer-worker pal Ed Norton attempt to implement get-rich quick schemes in the face of their own incompetence and spousal resistance – except Ralph and Ed are played by Cedric the Entertainer and Mike Epps, and thus black. I’m kind of interested in how that’ll play out.

  3. Never saw the movie, but my question is why sigma’s were substituted for e’s in the title. Every time I looked at an ad, I read “My big fat Grssk wsdding.”

    Yes, I know, sigma’s look Greek, and advertisers assume the public is too dumb to actually know Greek letters.

  4. Nick,
    Your post is just stupid, period. While MBFGW may have been over-rated, it was a well-made, fun movie (and gets extra points for being an indie). You didn’t like it? So what, you don’t have to. But to claim it is without merit is just dumb. Below I paste the first “User Comment” found on the film at IMDB.com. I’m not saying it’s a beacon of cinematic critique. But it does address your query directly, and it’s infinitely better reasoned

    One of the Few Great Comedies in the Last 5 Years, 24 May 2004
    Author: dewey1985 from Brandon, Manitoba
    “People who call this movie down generally do so because the past five years have offered us nothing in the comedy field but farting and sex jokes. This is what we are being told is funny now. Some of that type of comedy has a place, but MBFGW was the movie that dared to give us a taste of what great comedy is all about. It’s family-friendly–which is a shocker for comedies today–and offers us characters and jokes that do not require us to be of Greek origin to appreciate. I am amazed by how many people say to me “that’s my family” when we discuss the movie. I found it so easy to identify with the family and I’m not even Greek.

    This movie offers all forms of comedy, including one-liner sitcom-like jokes and slapstick. It is not an insulting movie. People who take offense to the stereotype of a Greek family likely are just taking things too seriously. It is an all-around fun movie that was created with only one intention–to be enjoyed by people who just want to see a good movie.

    With TV shows like JACKASS working their way into the mainstream of comedy, My Big Fat Greek Wedding is given to us a classic, old-fashioned comedy that can appeal to everybody. If you come from a big family you may appreciate it more. The best way to appreciate it is to watch it with no expectations, don’t think too hard, and just laugh. It is a great comedy that everyone can watch, with great characters, a simple storyline, and enough jokes to keep you into it for the entire film.”

  5. MBFGW was a hit not because of anything to do with the ethnic tensions, but because it told the story of a frumpy chick who a) tarts herself up, b) throws off the shackles of her family (goes to school) and c) finds love from a sensitive guy. Basically any Lifetime movie with a slightly bigger budget. God knows why, but women eat this crap up with the same amount of bewildering abandon as us guys did with Sly and Van Damme films.

  6. WSDave is right – MBFGW had harmless ehtnic jokes about harmless ethnic people. Anyone remember reading about how we were never going to laugh again? Crimminy….

    Plus, our country has been overrun by Balkan immigrants, and they found it hilarious and less contrived than you and I. Also it was a foreign movie. (That’s how I heard people talk about it, anyway…it brought the masses – dozens and dozens – to the arthouses.)

    Note, however, that the ethnic tensions/hee-haws at the heart of the movie are NOT dated. If you’d had a few Balkan folks in your audience (recent immigrants, students, or communist/economic refugees of any age), you would have heard them laughing hard. I couldn’t get them to shut up so I could hear.

  7. It was basically an inoffensive movie that had a few funny bits and did have that indie cred thing going for it. But it had a major flaw: the message of the movie at the end seems to be to embrace your roots and recognize that, no matter how embarrassing your family may be, deep down what matters is that they love you and want the best for you.

    Which is, you know, fine. Except it only appears to apply to one character in the movie, since Constantine’s stuffy WASP family is basically treated as an object of derision, only becoming sympathetic when they get drunk on grappa and start acting like something they’re not. I notice the little girl’s not going to horse riding lessons in Winnetka in the end – apparently embracing your roots is a one-way street.

  8. I’d like to watch MBFGW back to back with ‘THe Late Marriage’ along with a few Balkan immigrants and see how they react. I’d wager that TLW would outdo MBFGW for realism, but MBFGW would get more laughs. Nothing wrong with that, I guess.

  9. I beg to differ, Sean. I would instead suggest that, “in grappa veritas”, and so the WASPs are losing their facade as well (perhaps the guy’s grandmother is offscreen ranting about the French, the Germans, and the Irish).

  10. Except for the silly Windex bit, my wife and I both liked MBFGW.

    Tom Hanks & his wife produced it after she saw the lead’s one woman show by the same name.

    One would think that folks who appreciate “up by their own bootstraps” success would at least appreciate both how it got made AND its subsequent success.

    Nick, we’ll always have pedestrian stuff. The mere fact that you put the name Otto Preminger in the same post suggests you’ve got a bug up the wazoo and were just itchin’ for a scrap.

    Just enjoy it for what it is. Sometimes a light romantic comedy is just a light romantic comedy.

  11. Come to think of it, I think the title was ‘The Late Wedding’ not ‘The Late Marriage’. My Bad.

  12. Two words: Andrea Martin! Aunt Voula was the funniest part of that movie, hands down.

  13. My wife did not particularly enjoy it, but I did. The reason? My wife’s Greek. She thought it hit a bit too close to home. I could really see many of my wife’s family in the movie. Yeah, it was stereotyped, and yeah, it was cliched. And yeah, I probably would not have enjoyed it as much if it had been My Big Fat Japanese or Botswanan or Latvian wedding. But I did enjoy it.

  14. Which is, you know, fine. Except it only appears to apply to one character in the movie, since Constantine’s stuffy WASP family is basically treated as an object of derision, only becoming sympathetic when they get drunk on grappa and start acting like something they’re not. I notice the little girl’s not going to horse riding lessons in Winnetka in the end – apparently embracing your roots is a one-way street.

    I know there are plenty of last acceptable prejudices, but bagging on WASPs really is the last acceptable prejudice. When was the last time you saw identifiable WASPs portrayed onscreen as anything other than uptight pantywaists desparately in need of either a takedown or loosening-up good time? You know, it’s not like WASPs wrote the constitution or fought the Civil War or built this country or did the heavy lifting for western civilization for two centuries-why should they get any respect?

    However, Constantine is not the WASP-he’s the Greek paterfamilias. Look for his upcoming autobiography I’m Not Paul Sorvino.

  15. Discussing Preminger’s directorial career without addressing “Skidoo” is even more appalling than discussing his acting career without addressing “Stalag 17”.

  16. I thought it was hilarious. Every joke in that movie reminded me of different experiences I had and people I knew while I was growing up in Toronto. And those statues on the lawn just killed me.

  17. I credit some weird, shared, mass hypnosis thing. My wife saw it in theaters for the first time, and ranks it as one of the 10 best movies she’s ever seen. She tells me everyone in the theater reacted the same way that she did.

    Me, I saw it on DVD for the first time and couldn’t make it all the way through. But for me, the whole Look How Ethnic and Literary My Childhood Was movement never made it out of the starting gate.

  18. Oops – sorry, Tim’s right, of course. I meant John Corbett, previously notable for growing increasingly more grating over the run of “Northern Exposure.” My bad.

  19. >When was the last time you saw identifiable WASPs portrayed onscreen as anything other than uptight pantywaists desparately in need of either a takedown or loosening-up good time?

    Another insipid romantic comedy: My Best Friend’s Wedding.

  20. I’m with Nick on this one.

    I never could make myself watch more than 5 minutes of it at a time whenever I came across it on cable TV and I never thought there was anything funny about it.

    But then my idea of a hilarious movie was that Speilberg WW2 comedy 1941 with John Belushi as the wacko fighter pilot.

  21. “When was the last time you saw identifiable WASPs portrayed onscreen as anything other than uptight pantywaists desparately in need of either a takedown or loosening-up good time?”

    Obi-wan Kenobi ?

  22. Woah, everyone is so serious — including Mr. Gillespie.

    MBFGW is just a really well-written family/romantic comedy, with the ethnic differences just amplifying the differences between all families.

    If you’re looking for deep commentary on multiculturism, you’re barking up the wrong tree. The lesson at the end of the movie is about accepting _personal_ differences — a refreshingly libertarian message, IMHO.

    Also, as a 2nd gen. desi, I found the ethnic veneer to be hilarious.

  23. Hey, quit picking! It’s hard enough living out here on this desert island.

  24. I heaqr people attack and defend the movie, but what about the other question: Why the popularity?

    Even the defenders admit that it’s just a light romp, but unlike other such fare, this stayed at the top of the charts for something like 2 years! Lawrence of Arabia didn’t do that good, nor did Strictly Ballroom, both of which deserved to more.

    I’m still convinced that it was 9/11 backlash.

  25. “When was the last time you saw identifiable WASPs portrayed onscreen as anything other than uptight pantywaists desparately in need of either a takedown or loosening-up good time?”

    …or a business man as a hero?

  26. Somebody finally said it. Right on Nick, MBFGW was a complete turd.

  27. I simply cannot understand the appeal of *My Big Fat Greek Wedding.* It violated every law of modern cinema.

    There weren’t any explosions.

    There was sex, but it wasn’t as explicit as we’re used to in modern movies. And it led to (shudder) marriage.

    Nobody’s head was impaled on an iron spike or sliced off with a machete.

    No-one had to flee from a killer cyborg from the future. In fact, there was a distinct lack of killer cyborgs.

    There weren’t even any car chases, for Heaven’s sake, despite explicit provisions in the Motion Picture Code requiring a minimum of two car chases per film.

    Nobody was eaten by a computer-animated monster. Come to think of it, I can’t seem to recall any computer animation at all. Or monsters.

    The protagonist wanted to maintain a good relationship with her parents, instead of discarding those irrelevant old farts.

    Speaking of farts, where was the bathroom humor? The protagonists never had a comical misunderstanding resulting in their almost drinking human feces in the belief that they were drinking coffee. Don’t the moviemakers know anything about humor?

    The people in the movie quite clearly lived in the suburbs, but — what’s this? They weren’t living frantic lives of frustration and irrelevance, nor was their idyllic suburban existence a mere cover for an inner angst that illustrated the basic pointlessness of existence. I got the distinct impression that the people in the movie were living full, complicated and often fulfilling lives despite the deadening effect which suburbia is supposed to have on people in movies.

    Relations between the heroine and her family, although sometimes frustrating, ultimately provide her with a source of strength and a sense of rootedness. Didn’t she get the memo that movie families aren’t in the least interesting unless they’re spectacularly dysfunctional?

    No wonder that truly enlightened people were lukewarm about the movie. Why did the people, philistines that they are, ignore their cultural leaders and watch the movie anyway?

  28. There weren’t even any car chases, for Heaven’s sake, despite explicit provisions in the Motion Picture Code requiring a minimum of two car chases per film. – Pauline K.

    I believe the minimum is one for comedies, but it is accompanied by the Ebert Proviso, which holds that chases in laff-fests must include the upsetting of at least one (1) pushcart or kiosk, preferably ones that sell fruit.

    Kevin

  29. Chickens work, too.

    Aren’t there also supposed to be two guys carrying a large piece of plate glass across the street?

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