One day in Battery Park, August 2002, I walked to McDonald’s, got a Big ’N’ Tasty, and went with my mom and my brother to see My Big Fat Greek Wedding at the United Artists Battery Park 16. Like every movie I saw there, the crowd was thin or non-existent; even before 9/11, when the theater was operated by Regal, they could never attract the kind of business you’d regularly see in Midtown and the East Village. My mom wanted to see My Big Fat Greek Wedding because of John Corbett, famous to all of us as Aidan on Sex and the City, one of many television shows on constant rotation in our Tribeca apartment, alongside The X-Files, The Simpsons, TRL, Malcom in the Middle, and so many others. But there was also the Rita Wilson connection: she and Tom Hanks saw Nia Vardalos’ one-woman off-Broadway show My Big Fat Greek Wedding and signed on to produce the movie.
Major movie stars may have produced the movie, but it was still an independent production, one that cost only $5 million and whose biggest “stars” were the second boyfriend on Sex and the City and a Scorsese/Coppola character actor. Michael Constantine may not have had the name recognition that John Corbett did 21 years ago, but his belief in the comprehensive panacea Windex is what most people remember from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The movie went on to gross $369 million, making it the most successful independent film of all time for a number of years. For this reason, it’s a film that looms large for the generation just below me, a film entered into record books just like Heaven’s Gate in the other direction.
Fourteen years later, there was a sequel, one that my mom and brother and I also saw, this time at the Landmark Harbor East in Baltimore; we remember next to nothing about it. Another seven years have passed, and Nia Vardalos is back with the third installment, the first she wrote and directed herself. More than the lackluster quality of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3, or the typically thin crowd at the recently reopened Harbor East Cinemas, it was the “pre-movie message” that played that depressed me most about the new film. Nia Vardalos doesn’t just give us one of those embarrassing and unnecessary “THANK YOU FOR SEEING OUR MOVIE IN A MOVIE THEATER!” ads that popped up before Babylon, Top Gun: Maverick, Old, and many other post-pandemic features; she gives us a full recap of the events of the first two films.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 has been widely panned as fluffy and lifeless, an $18 million Greek vacation for Vardalos, Corbett, and the rest of the series regulars that all return (save Michael Constantine, who died in 2021). And it is: the Portokalos family travel to a small village in Greece to spread their patriarch’s ashes, and hopefully find some long lost relatives. They’re met by the “mayor” of the very small town, who guides them through the movie. It’s 91 minutes, and there’s not much to do except hang out in Greece. I’ve seen that aspect of the film criticized, but I don’t think a laidback screenplay where plot takes a back seat to character is necessarily bad. The problem is Nia Vardalos’ script and direction: unfortunately, none of the film’s jokes land, and it has an uncanny valley quality common to student films and similarly inexplicable dysfunctional movies.
Bad movies, especially bad sequels, are nothing new, but moviegoing in America has declined so dramatically in the last 21 years, that one of this century’s most beloved franchises needs a “refresher” before the film. Forgot what happened to the Portokalos family? Maybe you wouldn’t have if the film were properly advertised, or if there weren’t two strikes preventing the writer/director/lead actor from promoting the film. Maybe if a sleeper hit like the first one is ever possible again.
—Follow Nicky Smith on Twitter: @nickyotissmith