A Movie Ruined by Shallowness & Fake ‘Diversity’

Thoughts on the third installment of 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding'

My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a 2002 movie about a Greek-American woman navigating life in America between the expectations of her immigrant family and assimilationist impulses in the United States. Rife with stereotypes, it traces Toula Portokalos’s life as a kid growing up with parents that run a diner, send her to Greek School on Saturdays, and shape her life amid a loud, in-your-face extended Greek family.

Toula eventually becomes infatuated with Ian Miller and they begin to date. Their courtship long remains a secret because Toula is afraid how her family — especially her father — will react to her relationship with a WASP non-Greek. Eventually, they decide to marry and, in the words of the “Brady Bunch” theme song, “this group must somehow form a family.” We’re treated to the usual laughs: a straight-laced, WASP American couple meeting an extended Greek family, a bridegroom who claims to be “vegetarian” encountering the simple “no!” from his bride’s family. But some of the challenge is taken seriously, e.g., the nominally Protestant mainline white-bread Ian marrying a Greek Orthodox girl having to decide to be baptized and join the Orthodox Church. (Spoiler: he does).

The franchise continued with a second film in 2016 and a third this year. Both box office receipts and critical reception declined over time. How does one keep reboots fresh?

I have to say I was interested in the film because, in our age of “diversity” and “let a thousand identities bloom,” it’s a paradox that Europe — a continent that produced the diversity of 54 different countries on a relatively small piece of real estate — is generally ignored; those unique cultures are amalgamated into some generic “European” culture. Michael Novak’s 1972 Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics led to a blip in rediscovering urban ethnic diversity, especially among Eastern and Southern Europeans. That burst soon died, however, probably because Democrats — who had a lock on many of those constituencies at that time — took them for granted while looking for other pastures, and Republicans acted like ethnic politics was below their “Americanism.”

I went to My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 with high expectations. The movie is about Toula and family making their first family trip back to the Old Country. From personal experience, I know that’s a watershed moment for American immigrant families, reconnecting with one’s roots. I was disappointed.

For one thing, the script seemed to have gotten the sociology wrong. Generally speaking, it’s the second generation — the kids of immigrants — who want to forget their pasts, while the third generation — the grandkids — want to remember. But Toula really wants to be in Greece; her daughter Paris’s problem was not so much leaving America as getting out of self-absorption.

My bigger problem with the film, however, was its contrived DEI (diversity/equity/inclusion) agenda. We have a sexually indistinct mayor of the Greek village (of six people, five of whom did not vote). We have a misanthropic Greek woman who nevertheless reveals she slept with Toula’s father before he went to America and… meet your half-brother! That woman, by the way, has taken in a Syrian refugee. By movie’s end, her grandson (the son of the half-brother) wants to marry the girl and, despite the Greek woman’s initial demurral, she’s reminded how everybody is happy to have Ukrainian refugees around and so we have a nice wedding.

Unlike Greek Wedding I, however, the latest film never broaches the interfaith nature of the wedding. It’s a non-question. Would it be in Greece? Nobody asks whether a Greek Orthodox would marry a likely Muslim (and, therefore, likely unbaptized) spouse without the religion question coming up (unlike those Ukrainian refugees, who would likely be co-religionists). The wedding itself has lots of candles but no explicitly religious element: the focus is on the integrated line dancing, the men dancing Greek dances, the women Syrian ones, the mayor running between both.

The Portokalos family made this trip back to Greece not out of curiosity about roots but a commitment: when Toula’s father died, he instructed her to bring the diary he kept about life in America back to three boyhood friends in Greece who had outlived him. Much of the movie is also a search for those three men but, because this is an American movie, it has to have a happy ending: the men are found.

Toula’s brother, however, brought something else with him: the urn with Papa Portokalos’s ashes. He wants to lay them beneath the tree under which Papa and his boyhood friends romped. Toula is initially off-put to discover (a) he brought the ashes and (b) planned on leaving them there. But by the film’s end, she, brother, and half-brother smilingly scatter ashes in the moonlight under that tree. Never mind that Greek Orthodoxy is even less friendly to cremation than Catholicism.

To the degree it is there (and its presence is minimal), religion gives this movie some local color, nothing more. A panorama of a mountainside village includes a church. Religion’s biggest presence takes the form of a monk who lives in a cottage by the seaside, whom Ian befriends. The monk knows the people who used to live in the village but moved out: he’s the source of the addresses of the three caballeros. That he was a monk is accidental; he could have been the retired village registrar.

Nia Vardalos, the Canadian-Greek actress who plays Toula, also wrote the script. One senses the film is less Greek than Canadian liberal worldview — with a dash of secular EU multiculturalism — filmed in pretty Greek settings. If that’s how we’re to understand European ethnics’ experience, then give the franchise a rest. The underlying culture melted long ago and assimilated into the melting pot fondue of Western secular liberalism.

 

John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are exclusively his.

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