Back in 2002, My Big Fat Greek Wedding defied the usual indie expectations and grossed over $240,000,000 domestically. Unfortunately, the film’s writer and female lead, Nia Vardalos, hasn’t produced a hit since then. Following an ill-advised, short-lived television show based on her debut, Vardalos returned to theaters in 2004 with Connie and Carla, a flop that disappointed all who secretly awaited a decent mainstream drag queen film, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) or, for the less culturally sophisticated amongst us, Tootsie (1982). If you’ll remember, Tootsie featured Dustin Hoffman as an actor who, to put things mildly, transforms himself physically in order to score a role. Hoffman delivers a layered performance, both amazingly absurd and genuinely touching, which any lesser actor without such sophistication of subtlety couldn’t have achieved. Such nuance, unfortunately, isn’t found anywhere within the latest effort starring Nia Vardalos. Even more troubling is the absence of the key factor that made Vardalos an overnight star: sheer likeability.
I suspect that, at some point, Vardalos followed the wrong advice and decided to jazz up her image in an attempt to conform to Hollywood standards, but, in doing so, she has lost the accessibility and genuineness that endeared her to audiences in the first place. Nowadays, she cuts a much slighter figure and favors short skirts along with role-defying wedge-heeled sandals. In ridding herself of frumpiness, Vardalos has also managed to do away with all charm. In fact, Vardalos no longer demonstrates any emotion besides apathy and fake enthusiasm. As such, she is incapable of evoking any sort of character transformation, and she receives virtually no assistance from screenwriter Mike Reiss (“The Simpsons,” “The Critic”). My Life in Ruins is saddled with an ill-advised script, which returns Vardalos to relatively familiar “Greek” territory but fails to consider the film’s target audience, who were probably hoping to see something on par with Wedding but instead receive a steady supply of cheap, toilet-oriented humor. Otherwise, the intended laughs are geared towards mocking single adult women, who could really improve themselves, perform better at work, and be blessed with a fantastic life if only they could just get their pathetic asses laid.
It’s really that simple — a woman can recover her “kefi” (Greek for “mojo”) merely by hopping on a dick. Who wants some?
Georgia (Vardalos) is an overqualified Greek-American, who loses her cushy professor gig at the University of Athens, so she must lower herself to leading bus tours of Greece. Naturally, Georgia loathes her job and hates the country and all its people. Oh, and, worst of all, Georgia detests being single, a “problem” that she does not make any less obnoxious by whining to everyone that she’s not had sex in, like, forever. As the film begins, Georgia is about to lead a busload of tourists on a five-day tour, during which she plans to heavily feature the ruins of Athens, Olympia and Delphi, but she is quite exasperated to learn that tourists will want to go shopping and spend time at the beach as well. To make matters even more insufferable, Georgia’s new bus driver, played by Alexis Georgoulis, sports an unshaven, unkempt, Unibomber-chic appearance. Yet, beneath the beard of Poupi Kakas (seriously, pronounce it for yourselves) lurks a handsome, virile, muscular creature straight out of an “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” commercial.
Poupi’s metamorphosis is not lost on his passengers, who judge him as instantly losing the “sinister” vibe and inexplicably becoming “mysterious.” By and large, these tourists themselves are mere one-dimensional sociocultural stereotypes: stuffy Brits and beer-guzzling Aussies; a few Spanish cougar divorcées, Lena (Maria Adanez) and Lala (Maria Botto); and the offensive Americans, Kim (Rachel Dratch) and Big Al (Harland Williams), who deliver much TMI on their nightly efforts to conceive a child. The lone bright spot is a wisecracking Jewish widower, played by Richard Dreyfuss, who adds a slight bit of depth to what would otherwise be a mere apparent Viagra addict but, instead, emerges as a Dionysus figure. Dreyfus does so despite the screenplay and with absolutely no help from director Donald Petrie (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Just My Luck), who cannot even provide his audience with decent cinematography in the first feature-film footage ever taken at Acropolis and the Temple of Delphi. These locations, much like the entirety of My Life in Ruins, are entirely wasted in favor of a series of pointless character sketches that are loosely connected by a formulaic plot.
All too predictably, Georgia soon learns to love life and, before the end of the tour, acts as a marriage counselor, partner in crime, and, perhaps most tellingly, the fuck buddy to Poupi Kakas. In fact, after Poupi teaches Georgia how to — ahem — loosen up, she becomes the most beloved tour guide in all of Europe. Since Vardalos does no acting here and fails to communicate any transitory subtlety to cover for the screenplay’s shortcomings, the only viable conclusion is that the fucking alone has transformed Georgia from an uptight control freak to a free-spirited, sexy thang. By delivering such an insult, My Life in Ruins salvages absolutely nothing from the remaining shreds of Nia Vardalos’ career. While it’s easy to place blame on an inept screenplay and disinterested director, a lot more culpability resides within the lead actress, who has misplaced all confidence in her (former) ability to entertain. Vardalos appears disoriented and entirely fumbles this opportunity, which shall, if nothing else, ensure that audiences will lose any remaining affection they held for My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.