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My Big Fat Greek Wedding

In retrospect, the backlash was inevitable. Any movie that does what My Big Fat Greek Wedding did — open completely under the radar in just a few theaters, then go on to gross more than $230 million, all while virtually shutting every other movie out of 2002's "crowd-pleaser of the year" race — is bound to draw a little critical ire. Several months into the film's record-breaking theatrical run, accusations of over-simplification and ethnic stereotyping started cropping up amongst the glowing word-of-mouth reviews; like Forrest Gump, MBFGW became a love-it or hate-it picture that separated the film snobs from the movie lovers. Which, frankly, gives it a lot more significance than it deserves. Because at the most basic level, My Big Fat Greek Wedding never tries to be more than a fun, funny romantic comedy about an ugly (or perhaps "dowdy" is a better word) duckling who blossoms and finds her swan. It just so happens that this particular duckling is surrounded by a flock of raucous, effusive Greek relatives, while the swan comes from an uptight, white-bread family of the first order. The story has its roots in writer/star Nia Vardalos's own life (she's married to distinctly un-Greek supporting player Ian Gomez), and it found its way to the multiplexes thanks to Vardalos's one-woman stage show, which producer Rita Wilson (also Greek) saw, loved, and shepherded onto the big screen. Vardalos's joy at having her pet project come to fruition is obvious in the film — she plays heroine Toula Portokalos with years of stored-up energy and conviction. Unmarried at 30, Toula is a source of puzzlement and frustration for her traditional family, particularly her father, Windex-loving Gus (Michael Constantine). And even when Toula finally does find love — with WASPy teacher Ian Miller (John Corbett) — her family doesn't know what to make of her. Culture-clash comedy ensues, but it's Nia/Toula's take on the whole situation that sells the movie. Her wry, pointed observations about herself and her family consistently draw laughs; you don't have to be Greek to appreciate meddling relatives or the perils of navigating a relationship. The supporting cast is strong, particularly Lainie Kazan as Toula's mother, Maria. As the neck of the Portokalos family (the man may be the head, Maria explains to her daughter, but it's the neck that turns that head...), Kazan exudes the same kind of earthy, matriarchal charm that Tovah Feldshuh showed off in Kissing Jessica Stein. Andrea Martin steals several of her scenes as Toula's Aunt Voula, and 'N Sync-er Joey Fatone fills out a velour suit with true hairy-chested panache. The one semi-weak link in the chain is Corbett; his character is little more than a yes-man for much of the movie, following Toula's lead without question and embracing all of her traditions without sticking up for any of his own, weak as they may be. But it's the ugly duckling's movie, after all, so maybe her swan should dance to her tune... as long as it's a lively Greek dance. HBO's MBFGW DVD is adequate, if not as impressive as might have been expected given the film's spectacular success. Both anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and full-screen versions of the movie are included, and both look great, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio doesn't disappoint (other options include English 2.0 audio and English, French, Spanish, and — naturally — Greek subtitles). Extras comprose an enthusiastic commentary track with Vardalos, Corbett, and director Joel Zwick, as well as cast biographies. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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