Second City veteran Nia Vardalos expanded her one-woman show about life as a not-so-traditional daughter in a very traditional Greek-American family into a feature-length film, and the result is a rare delight: A romantic comedy that's both deeply romantic and very funny. Vardalos plays Toula, the frumpy 30-year-old daughter of Gus Portokalos (Michael Constantine), the extremely proud, extremely stubborn owner of Chicago's Dancing Zorba's diner, and the somewhat more understanding Maria (Lainie Kazan). Toula works as a "seating hostess" at Zorba's and still lives in the house she grew up in, the house with the Greek statuary, the Greek flag emblazoned on the garage door and the occasional goat-on-a-spit roasting on the front lawn. Gus worries that Toula will never find a nice Greek man to marry and wants to send her back to Greece to find a husband. But Toula has a better idea about how to kickstart her life: She wants to go back to school and study computers so she can work for her Aunt Voula's (SCTV alum Andrea Martin) travel agency. So over Gus's objections — he believes his daughter is already smart enough for a girl — Toula enrolls in a few classes, gives herself a drastic ugly duckling-to-swan makeover and even meets a Prince Charming, schoolteacher Ian Miller (John Corbett). He, true to storybook form, immediately falls in love with her and proposes. Toula accepts and together they face Gus, who's furious and hurt that any daughter of his would marry a xeno — a foreigner. It's obvious from the title where it all ends up — and, to the horror of Ian's WASPy North Shore family, that ending takes place in a sublimely tacky catering hall called Aphrodite's Palace — so there are really no unexpected twists to the tale. What is surprising is how poignant it all turns out to be. Funny without ever making fun, Vardalos mixes elements of ethnic stand-up, Cinderella romance and Bridget Loves Bernie-style situation comedy, all grounded in something very real: the tension between Gus and Toula. And that's what gives this already big-hearted film its soul.
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- Released: 2002
- Rating: PG
- Review: Second City veteran Nia Vardalos expanded her one-woman show about life as a not-so-traditional daughter in a very traditional Greek-American family into a feature-length film, and the result is a rare delight: A romantic comedy that's both deeply romantic… (more)