Sometimes, sequels are actually worth waiting for, especially the sequel to one of the highest-grossing, American romantic comedies in cinematic history. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” (**** OUT OF ****) qualifies as a charming but predictable sequel to its phenomenal predecessor “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” For the record, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” earned $368 million plus globally at the box office when it came out back in 2002. As far as I am concerned, the litmus test for all sequels is the cast. Virtually everybody from the 2002 original about a dysfunctional Greek family residing in Chicago has returned for this follow-up film. Happily, Canadian actress of Greek descent Nia Vardalos, who wrote “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” initially as a one- woman stage play, has scripted the sequel. Vardalos earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay for the first film. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” is every bit as entertaining and magical as its forerunner. In the sequel, Vardalos contends with three generations: the parents, her own marriage, and her haughty daughter. John Corbett, who played her boyfriend/husband Ian Miller from the earlier epic, is back. Simultaneously, seasoned Hollywood supporting players Michael Constantine and Lainie Kazan reprise their roles as our heroine’s eccentric Greek parents. Predictably, Constantine’s overbearing patriarchal character Gus still wields his spray bottle of Windex and brags that this cleaning product can solve any problem. If you’ve seen the original film, you’ll easily spot everybody else, including Louis Mandylor, Andrea Martin, Joey Fatone, and Gia Carides. Rated PG-13, this ethnic comedy will keep you giggling at their screwball shenanigans. Indeed, “Nanny McPhee” director Kirk Jones maintains a lighthearted, breezy pace from fade-in to fadeout, with several amusing complications and a surprise or two to enliven the material. Amazingly enough, he doesn’t slight anybody in the large ensemble cast. Altogether, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” celebrates romance, love, marriage, weddings, and embraces diversity throughout its nimble 94 minute running time without wearing out its welcome. You’ll have to search long and hard to find a comedy that neither insults you with its idiocy, nor soils its own material for comic relief.
Some things have changed for the cacophonous Portokalos clan. America’s ailing economy has forced Toula (Nia Vardalos of “Helicopter Mom”) to quit the travel and tourism business, and she has gone back to serving as a hostess in her father’s restaurant The Dancing Zorba. Meantime, Ian and she have been raising a daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris of “Labor Day”), who at age seventeen is hopelessly obsessed with eyeliner. At this point in her life, Paris has had it with her parents and can see through their agenda. Of course, since she is old enough to apply for college, everybody hopes she will stick around Chicago and attend Northeastern Illinois University. Paris prefers to pack up, leave town and indulge in greater freedom from stifling parental supervision. Moreover, she puts up with Gus’ criticisms about her status as a spinster as well as her encroaching decrepitude. Remember, Toula tolerated similar comments about her advanced age in the original. Meantime, Ian is no longer a teacher at the high school that his daughter attends and where Toula pitches in to help whenever volunteers are needed. Now, Ian is the principal, so the Millers have cornered prosperity of a sort. Gus still tells the same jokes, and he regales Paris and her friends with his outlandish etymological Grecian origins of any word. Toula’s brother Nick (Louis Mandylor of “One in the Chamber”) has married and has three little boys. Everything suddenly changes for the worst when Gus discovers that the priest who married Maria (Lainie Kazan of “Dayton Devils”) and him forgot to sign the marriage license. Predictably, Maria takes this opportunity to learn how much Gus really loves her by playing hard to get when he proposes to her again. Indeed, everything that can go wrong does go wrong until Maria decides to accept his offer. Maria adds to their woes when she hires a wedding planner and the poor girl refuses to grant Maria’s every wish for an over-the-top marriage ceremony. Maria’s dysfunctional family throws up their collective hands in despair and they take over planning the ceremony. While Gus and Maria struggle to tie the knot for the second time, Toula and Ian endeavor to rekindle the passion in their own marriage since Paris is about to forsake Chicago for a New York City university.
Does anybody remember the short-lived television series “My Big Fat Greek Life” with its seven episodes that the incredibly successful movie spawned? Star and scribe Nia Vardalos and director Kirk Jones behave as if the events depicted in that ephemeral series never occurred. Miraculously, they manage to bridge the void of the intervening 14 years and blend both films seamlessly together. Ian and Toula live next door now to Gus’ mansion with its tacky plethora of Greek statues. Every morning dawns with Gus cruising up to each adjacent house to pick up family members for school and work. Mind you, like the original film, the producers of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” show the savvy sense to serve audiences sloppy seconds of the first film. Basically, this amounts to a “Big, Fat” ethnic array of stock characters scrimmaging in a standard-issue sitcom. Believe it or not, Vardalos still gets a lot of mileage out of this wacky formula about their extended family. For example, when everybody realizes how late they are for the wedding, a family member in the Chicago Police Department arranges to transport the principals by careening patrol cars with lights ablaze to their Greek Orthodox Church. After the demise of the television series, it was difficult to imagine that the Portokalos clan would scale the same hilarious heights. Nevertheless, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” emerges as a faithful and flavorful sequel that all sequels should emulate, and the ensemble cast hasn’t lost a scrap of its charisma.
“Your imagination can take you where nothing else can.” Van Roberts