REVIEW: My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

23 03 2016

At this point, anyone who goes into the sequel of a decades-old comedy expecting it to rival the original ought to have their head checked. After “Anchorman 2,” “Dumb and Dumber To” and “Zoolander 2” each spent more time paying homage to the original as opposed to breaking from it, perhaps the best audiences can hope for is something that does not spoil the legacy. As sad a thought as setting the bar low might be, at least it can help mitigate the disaster.

Thankfully, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” seems to avoid most of the pitfalls of the previously mentioned films. The answer to the question of “is it better than the original?” is, of course, no. But to “is it good enough?” Yes, it pretty much is.

Writer and star Nia Vardalos brings back all the familial tensions, marriage anxieties and Windex that people loved in her unexpected 2002 smash hit comedy while also leaving plenty of room for new jokes and humor. It might not flow as effortlessly the second time around, but the characters show impressively few signs of rust after 14 years.

The chief difference in the film is that Vardalos’ Toula is now on the other side of marriage and courtship. After the ordeal that was tying the knot with a non-Greek “xeno,” she must now contend with her teenage daughter, ironically named Paris (Elena Kampouris), reaching the age where the Portokalos family deems her ready to waltz down the aisle. But, in a twist similar to “Father of the Bride – Part II,” she winds up dealing with an unexpected life course event from some older relatives.

The antics of the family, who remarkably all returned for the sequel, remain consistently hilarious. Even if they do not reach the instantly quotable levels of the original “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” Vardalos can still deliver the lines and the laughs. She wisely embraces just how many deep cuts there were in the first film, making some references that only the die-hard fans who watched the movie a hundred times on HBO and TBS will catch. (Guilty as charged.) Watching as she continues to mine these characters for humorous moments remains a delight – certainly enough to redeem the occasional plot contrivance or corny line. B+3stars

REVIEW: Larry Crowne

29 06 2011

The recessionary spirit has started to manifest itself in American cinema at full force, and thanks to “Larry Crowne,” it has entered mainstream romantic comedy.  While it’s less like “Up in the Air” and more like a double-length sitcom episode, the movie works as a reminder that dignity, integrity, and the will to work are three powerful weapons against the tough times facing our country.  This commentary mostly takes a backseat to the been there, done that genre tropes – but just the fact that it has subtext makes it deeper that just about every romantic comedy in the past decade.

Say what you will about the declining power of movie stars, but I don’t think this movie would have worked without its marquee names, Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.  We’ve all seen the good-natured person melt the cold exterior of someone else, although “Larry Crowne” does invert it by making the man nice and the woman chilly.  The characters are one-dimensional; Hanks’ Larry being an embodiment of good while Roberts’ Mercedes Tainot representing a heart hardened by a bad marriage and the frustrating public education system.

Yet it’s watchable, even fun, because our heads process it as Erin Brockovich falling in love with Forrest Gump.  The romance isn’t good enough to be cared about if we were watching two no-name indie actors, and we accept it because we have a history with these two actors and we trust them.  We aren’t watching Larry Crowne; we are watching Josh Baskin, Andrew Beckett, Joe Fox, and Chuck Noland.  Similarly, we aren’t watching Mercedes Tainot; we are watching Vivian Ward, Julianne Potter, Maggie Carpenter, and Anna Scott.  Where the script lacks, the decades we have spent having these two actors entertain us compensates.  (So if you aren’t a fan of either of the actors, maybe it’s best to steer clear.)

When it’s not quietly extolling American virtues, “Larry Crowne” is light, breezy, and warm.  Its titular character meets an interesting cast of characters at the local community college, explores new hobbies and passions, and confronts the changes in his life with determination and willpower.  While I expect a little bit more from Nia Vardalos, the woman who had me in tears of laughter with “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” in the way of humor, the movie has a sort of pleasant wit to it.  Combined with the likability factor of Hanks and Roberts, the movie makes for a nice and decently satisfying watch.  B /