Best Independent Film of 2002:
My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Nia Vardalos
It's every filmmaker's dream: start off with a low budget, get some big names to back you up, and gross over forty times what you initially invested. Of course, this hardly ever happens to anyone.
Except for Nia Vardalos, the Cinderella story of the year. Back in April, My Big Fat Greek Wedding was released. It was a critic darling with little hope for mainstream interest. To the surprise of everyone, including the star, the film went on to gross over $210 million domestically, despite never being number one at the box office.
It all began when Vardalos was a studying drama at Ryerson University. The Winnipeg native was repeatedly told that she should do stand-up comedy, and after Second City, went on to L.A. to launch her career. But she wasn't skinny enough, big enough, not ethnic enough, or too ethnic, to have a successful career. Her one-woman show, which chronicled the adventures of growing up in a large Canadian-Greek family, was the basis for the movie. One night, American-Greek actress Rita Wilson caught her show and loved it. On her urging, Tom Hanks attended her show another night, and offered her a movie deal through his production company, Playtone. Vardalos wrote the screenplay and boldly asked to star in the movie. Hanks obliged, and the biggest indie hit in U.S. history was born.
In My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Vardalos plays Toula, a shy woman seemingly destined to work in her parents' restaurant for the rest of her life (by the way, the movie was filmed on the Danforth). But, after a chance meeting with Ian Miller (John Corbett), Toula decides to take destiny into her own hands. She goes back to school, changes jobs, and falls in love. Now the problem becomes introducing her Greek family to Ian, a wasp-y teacher. There are numerous cultural stereotypes thrown in for a laugh, and the ending is predictable. But the movie's charm surpasses any hesitation brought on by these factors. Toula's parents, played by Michael Constantine and Lainie Kazan, steal the show. Andrea Martin is also hilarious as Aunt Voula, and even Joey Fatone holds his own as Toula's cousin (probably because of the lack of lines). The aspect that I most enjoyed about the movie was that Toula sprouted a huge pimple on her wedding day. While that's no laughing matter, it lends the movie a realism lacking in today's romantic comedies. You know you'd never catch Jennifer Lopez with a stray nose hair or Julia Roberts with blackheads.
Since the movie's release, 40-year-old Vardalos has been catapulted into the limelight. She dined with the Queen, was named the Number Four Entertainer of the Year by Entertainment Weekly (beating the likes of "American Idol," Halle Berry, and Jennifer Aniston), and is working on a CBS sitcom of the same name. But she didn't let fame go to her head - she offered as many roles to real-life family members as she could.
Not bad for a small-town woman who confessed that she's had sideburns since age six. Vardalos is proof that fairytales do come true, and not only through Disney. She is currently working on a project called Connie and Carla, slated to come out in 2004. If it's anything like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you can count on another witty, well-written and entertaining movie. ¤ C.Ho.
MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING: (out of 5)