Why some movies are successful at the box office and others aren’t has always fascinated me, particularly those that have very low budgets yet go on to gross ridiculous sums of money. A prime example of this occurred in 2002 with Nia Vardalos’ My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a film that plays like an extended episode of a generic sit-com. With a budget of $5 million it went on to gross $369,000,000 worldwide. That’s a 73 percent return on the original investment. The movie placed 20th on the box office chart during its first week of release and steadily rose as the summer went on to peak in the number two spot for three straight weeks.
How to explain this massive success? One critic – his name escapes me now – felt that the reason so many flocked to the film was in response to the attacks of 9/11. These events ripped apart the social fabric of the country, instilling in Americans the notion that all we held to be true – particularly the sanctity and security we find in our homes as well as the shelter and love we find with our families – was forever compromised, which sent people reeling. The critic opined that audiences were in search of these qualities and found them in Vardolas’ Portokalos family and through them, vicariously embraced all they were missing.
Whether you agree with this or not, it’s as good an explanation as any as to why Greek Wedding struck a chord and perhaps to a lesser extent explains how its sequel managed to pull in $18 million during its first weekend of release, up against the juggernaut that was “Batman vs. Superman.” I suppose some comfort can be found spending time with the smothering Portokalos clan rather than seeing meta-humans destroy the world.
Greek Wedding 2 is more of the same where Vardalos’ Toula is concerned. Her marriage to the ever-affable and eternally patient Ian (John Corbett) is secure but they’ve fallen into a rut, going through the paces of their lives and union with nary a spark in sight. Like so many married couples, they find that the only thing they have in common is their daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris), a smart young lady who’s learned to run in the opposite direction whenever any member of her family appears. (You see where there’s one, the rest are soon to loudly follow. This is the film’s answer to highbrow humor). Anxious to put as much distance between her and home, Paris begins applying to colleges that are far, far away. This sends Toula into an even deeper funk.
The only inspired bit of plotting concerns her parents, Gus and Maria (Michael Constantine & Lainie Kazan) who after 50 years of wedded bliss, discover that their marriage certificate was never signed, thus negating their union. Of course, in order to stay true to the title, another wedding is planned for the cranky seniors but not before an airing of grievances occurs between them. Hilarity, apparently, ensues as the numerous aunts, uncles and cousins put in their two drachmae concerning how this should all come about.
This is what I like to call a “comfort food” movie. Think of Greek Wedding 2 as the equivalent of a plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes (or would it be moussaka and rice?). You know exactly what you’re going to get and while it might not be a four-star cinematic meal, it proves satisfying as it fills a need. Gentle, predictable and nap inducing, the film’s innocuous nature answers the nagging question “If Iceberg Lettuce were a movie, what would it be?” For that, we should be grateful.