What to do while watching:
What to eat while watching:
I love movies in general, and I have enormous respect for the people who devote so much time and money and energy to build these productions for others to enjoy. I also find that I love some movies more than other ones and feel greater transport and higher levels of enlightenment from these films. I think post people are this way, but I’m not always so sure. My review this week features a film that people raved about, and while I enjoyed myself and found it cute, I did wonder what all the fuss was about.
Every time I go onto Amazon.com to look at what people have said about films, I’m blown away by the fact that almost every one has staunch supporters. Pumpkin has some people convinced that it’s a brilliant movie. I found it to be unrealistic, sentimental sleaze, to be perfectly frank, nestled between Christina Ricci’s twin charms. This is not to say that I don’t appreciate the makers of the film for trying. But one amateur reviewer called it “deceptively deep, wildly romantic, unapologetically witty, and ultimately a piece of compassionate humanity. The execution was spectacular, even if not completely flawless (and how many films can claim that?). Pumpkin is certainly Ricci's best performance to date, as we are finally shown the true depth of her considerable skill as an actress.”
This is the type of person that gives anything an A for effort, ignoring the fact that some movies do actually achieve flawless execution. They are few and far between, but that’s the point (or should be the point) of a five-star, or in my case ten-star, rating. Excuse me: I’m usually not like this. But, some doofus (an Amazon top-500 reviewer) called The Man Who Cried “A sleeper of astonishing colour and beauty.” Note the pretentious spelling of “color.” There’s no accounting for taste, but honestly, I don’t know how a buzz can gets started over some of the most mediocre films.
Which brings me, in a huff, to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a cutesy piece of romantic trifle that’s generally schmaltzy, but charming nonetheless. I give writer and star Nia Vardalos a lot of credit for making such a personal an engaging film, for single-handedly carrying the well-worn tale to new heights, and for lugging an otherwise grayish cast toward such an adorable product. Really, it’s not bad.
Nia plays Toula, a Greek woman of thirty, who is the epitome of frumpiness. She’s homely and dresses to accentuate it. Her features, when not smiling, are severe and wan. Toula’s Greek family is a cast of characters, to be sure. Dad is an old-school Greek man and fiercely proud of it. As an organizing principal for a character, pride in one’s nationality is pretty one-dimensional; but since it’s played for comedy, the viewer isn’t led to expect anything else from dad. Brother is a good-looking bruiser. Early in the film, I detected a feint toward a brother-comes-out-of-the-closet subplot, but neither that nor any other aspect of this character was developed. Cousins are cousins, and none really stand out except for Andrea Martin, who is always great.
One day, Toula sees Ian (John Corbett) at the family-owned Greek cafe where she works. She does the live-action equivalent of a cartoon character’s love conniption. She’s twitter-pated! I suppose such an unusual human response is appropriate here because it paves the way for many more exaggerations and improbabilities. For example, Ian also gets the insta-hots for Toula. Well, not exactly, but he does manage to find her fetching even though she’s decidedly not, and is acting imbecilic to boot.
But then Toula goes through a radical transformation of self. She spends a night in front of the mirror, and the next day, she’s an out-and-out hottie. And her family doesn’t seem to notice the change. It’s not just the hair and make-up and clothes, either. Now, she’s smiling all the time as if she put curlers in her personality and rouge on her disposition. Maybe the scene where everyone kvells over her new self wound up on the cutting room floor. But here I am mixing my ethnicities: Jews kvell, not Greeks.
Toula’s complete overhaul includes putting her life on track: night classes and a day job in a travel agency. The latter is painted to be quite a hip and fun departure from the grind at the cafe. At least Toula thinks so, liberated as she is from so much baggage and embarking on a new life. That’s when Ian reappears and Toula goes into another quivering meltdown, in spite of the new makeover.
But at last, romance blooms and the two spend a lot of time together. Dad, the Greek, is not happy that his daughter is going out with a non-Greek. But at least it’s an improvement over being an old maid at thirty. Finally, the families start to warm up to each other and the couple start to plan the big day.
The meeting of the parents--Toula’s swarthy, overemotional kin and Ian’s staid and pallid progenitors--is as awkward as you’d expect, and played for humor that disparages the Greeks, but finally rewards them for being so welcoming and warm. The WASPs get the worst of the treatment, first fearing for their lives and then getting ill on Ouzo.
And in the end...well...I already forgot how it ends. But I’d stake money it was well on the happy side. In fact, apart from the family issues, the affair really had no obstacles. Though the simplicity of the central love relationship is simple beyond realism, it does make a convenient structure on which to hang so much comic portraiture of Greeks (and WASPs) in the United States. There’s also a fair share of battle-of-the-sexes humor that makes men look dim and ornery and women look nosy and intrusive, of course.
A much better film, that got some rave reviews but not nearly as much buzz (maybe because it’s subtitled), is Monsoon Wedding. In this film, the young couple has a lot more interpersonal stuff to work out--which rings much truer to me and delivers a greater emotional payoff when they do manage to get through it all. In Monsoon, the wedding is more in doubt. And the family humor is still in there, too. Add to that the role of the wedding planner, a classic comic hero who transcends his foibles to become a true angel of love, and Monsoon Wedding, not Big Fat Greek Wedding, gets Gooden’s ten stars.
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.