It's easy to get hung up on the problems with My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.
The story, such as it is, barely makes sense. The film is plotted like a sitcom, where misunderstandings breed misunderstandings and most problems could be cleared up by one person telling another person something important. The script, by Nia Vardalos (the screenwriter and star of both this film and its predecessor), is full of jokes you'll see coming from miles away.
Even more than that, the movie is shot, by director Kirk Jones, largely indifferently, like a TV show where the director gets a wide shot of the room, then cuts between medium shots of two people's faces as they talk to each other.
It's not like My Big Fat Greek Wedding was incredibly original, but it at least had a solid romantic comedy structure, and it kept Toula (Vardalos) and her beau, Ian (John Corbett), squarely at the center of the proceedings. It was classic sitcom stuff, letting the "normal" characters occupy the story's center while the kookier players floated around the edges. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 doesn't have even that, as Toula and Ian and their similarly normal daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris), disappear for long stretches of the action.
So why, then, did I find myself surprisingly moved by the last 20 minutes of the film, even as it attempted to set a touching moment to the overused John Legend song "All of Me"? And just when does the movie take place, anyway? Below, you'll find the answers to those questions and a few others you were too embarrassed to ask about My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.
1) Who's getting married in this one?
Weirdly, the film's marketing has been playing a little coy with regard to the identities of its bride and groom (though the answer is in the trailer above), and many people I've talked to assume — based on the poster — that Toula and Ian are marrying off their 17-year-old daughter, which would be one direction to go in, sure.
But the answer is that Toula's mother and father are getting married. When her father, Gus (Michael Constantine), gets interested in his genealogy, he discovers that he and his wife, Maria (Lainie Kazan), aren't actually married, because the priest who married them never signed the marriage certificate. For 50 years, they've been living in sin!
Naturally, they have to have a big wedding to celebrate their love and make their marriage official and all of that. And naturally, Toula (and the rest of her family) have to band together to make it happen.
Meanwhile, Toula and Ian are constantly saying they need to work on their marriage, despite nothing being demonstrably wrong with it — they just seem sorta run down at times, but they're also parents of a teenager who's applying to college, so.
It's all very low-stakes, but also there are no teenagers getting married, so that's a plus.
2) How is Toula and Ian's daughter old enough to be looking at colleges?
Another very important question: How on Earth do Toula and Ian have a daughter who's a senior in high school when the first movie only came out 14 years ago?
Even if you assume they conceived Paris on their wedding night — which we will date to the film's release on April 19, 2002 — Paris would have just turned 13 recently. And though her vocabulary is fairly large, she doesn't seem like a 13-year-old supergenius. Also, Toula says she's 17 in the film's opening sequence.
So does this film take place in the future, specifically the year 2020?
No. It takes place in the winter of 2013 and the spring of 2014. What most everyone has forgotten about the original Big Fat Greek Wedding is that it ends with a short flash-forward to when Toula and Ian drop off their daughter for her first day of kindergarten. Thus, it seems safe to assume much of the first movie is a flashback to the late '90s, when Toula and Ian first met and started courting.
And if we assume the flash-forward scene took place in 2001 or 2002 (i.e., Toula was looking back on the moments leading up to her daughter going to school), then the timeline makes more sense. Paris would be about 5 years old at that point, and thus would easily be a teenager in 2013.
How do I know My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 takes place in 2013? Because Gus and Lainie have been married for 50 years, and we get a few glimpses of their wedding certificate, which lists a date of 1963.
3) Is My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, in fact, "Greeker" than the original?
At least some of the sequel's promotional materials list it as "Bigger. Fatter. Greeker." (Some also say, "People change. Greeks don't." That seems wrong, but as a non-Greek, I can't say so definitively.)
However, neither film's jokes about being Greek are terribly specific to being Greek. People occasionally say, "Opa!" and Gus is really proud of his heritage. Also, there is a joke about spanakopita in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, because why not?
Otherwise most of the jokes in the sequel are simply about how people get old, and how young people think old people having sex is disgusting. These are the sort of gags that cut across all cultures (as the film makes a point of in a scene where Gus argues about the true roots of world culture with an Iranian friend and a Chinese friend).
The thing that made the first Wedding such a monster sleeper hit was that Vardalos was very smart about couching what seemed like a very specific story about her actual family in one that was much more universal. Lots of people have parents who are too involved in their lives. Lots of people have embarrassed themselves in front of a crush.
Vardalos didn't reinvent the wheel; she merely gave it a shiny coat of blue and white paint.
4) Will my parents enjoy this film?
I saw this movie in a screening attended by many people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, and they all had an amazing time. They clapped when Paris received her college acceptance letters. They howled every time the older people talked about getting frisky. They laughed at all the right moments, and applauded when the film was over.
To be frank, they had better memories of the first Wedding than I did. They laughed at the callbacks to its famous "Windex" running gag (which actually only spans three jokes here), and they reacted with great joy to the first appearances of every major character from the first movie.
In short: If a person in your life is really excited to see this movie, it is unlikely to let them down. That's usually true of movies, but it's really true of this one. Non–Big Fat superfans need not apply.
5) Wait, you said the movie moved you?
A little bit, yeah!
Let me put it this way: By most standards, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is a formless, lifeless slog. Vardalos attempts to give every character from the original film their own little storyline, and that ends up undercutting almost all of them.
One character, for instance, struggles with how to come out to his parents — but we don't meet his boyfriend until three-quarters of the way into the movie, in the same scene where his mother realizes he's gay and accepts him for it. This is the first time his homosexuality is directly mentioned (though it's hinted at here and there).
The result is a movie that's quite overstuffed, making it hard to latch onto anything. And with a script that's packed with non-conflicts (like the curious treatment of Toula and Ian's marriage), it's tempting to write off the film as a sort of cash grab, one made to revisit the biggest success of the careers of everyone involved.
But a curious thing happened during its last 20 minutes: I realized there are precious few movies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 being made these days. This is a movie about navigating multiple generations within one family, about figuring out how to live the life you want to live while still making room for the people you care about. It's a movie that takes seriously the idea of love being a potent force at any age, and it's one where the last several scenes wistfully bid goodbye to the characters we've met throughout the film.
The night after I saw Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, I saw Batman v Superman, and the juxtaposition became even more apparent. Say what you will about this unnecessary sequel, but it's full of characters who are at least vague approximations of real human beings. It might be indifferent to visual aesthetics, or even the rules of good storytelling, but it's filled with a kind of warm, all-encompassing love.
That feeling is in short supply in Hollywood nowadays. How often do you get the impression that a screenwriter really loves her characters and wants to see them succeed? Vardalos definitely, definitely does, and it's enough to carry My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 past its shaky foundations to something like genuine feeling.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is playing throughout the country. Take your entire crazy, meddlesome family.