A Big Fat Greek World With Laughs

I love films, I always have. As a child they were my safe refuge from a rather abusive boarding school. Once a week I was allowed off campus and I hiked to the local cinema and sat through a double feature -- which indicates how long ago it was.

But, there is a dilemma for me. There are films critics like and films the public likes. I don't particular have tastes that jive with either group.

The public seems to go nuts over action films, car chases, shoot-outs and special effects. I despise violence and find little enjoyment from car chases. And, it seems much of the time, special effects are poor substitutes for talent. If you have a lousy script and mediocre acting just have a massive quake and tsunami destroy San Francisco instead.

I want good scripts, plots, interesting characters, and well-written dialogue. These are things the public often ignore while critics say they want them, but often bring their own dismal sense of life to their reviews.

I'm a person who likes to laugh. I love happy endings. I want a film that, at least in some regard, tells me individuals can still be heroic, good can triumph over evil, and lives can be well lived. Those are considered "old fashioned" to many of the professional critics.

Many critics extol the anti-hero and find drama in the criminal, the depraved, and the dark side of life. I want film to show me how life can be. When I want to see "life as it is" I go to documentaries. But art, in my world, is about the possible; it is a projection of something better.

In 2002 one of the surprise hits was My Big Fat Greek Wedding, starring it's writer, Nia Vardalos. I loved the film. Yes, the Portokalos family members were something of caricatures, but they were not entirely out of character for many families. More importantly, at least for me, they made me laugh. Watching the film made my day a little happier. I consider each chuckle or smile a gift.

I read the reviews of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 and many were downright brutal. But, I've learned not to trust the critics and their often bitter -- sometimes jaded -- view of life and films. I've also learned critics will misstate the facts about films they dislike.

For instance, one well-known critic panned a film for being a series of endless business meetings with dialogue so badly pronounced he couldn't hear it. I saw the film and there were few such meetings and all the dialogue was quite clear to me. He criticized a love scene as being filmed from the neck up. An odd complaint I thought and a false one given I could see the same characters from the waist up in the film. I came away from the review thinking we saw two different films.

I certainly did pay attention to the critics praising Brokeback Mountain and suffered through the entire film as a result. It was beautiful cinematography but seemed plotless, focused on characters I couldn't like or care for, and had some of the worst dialogue imaginable. The entire two hours and 14 minutes seemed more like six hours to me. I've quite intentionally avoided a second viewing. Yet, films such as Latter Days and Get Real I can watch repeatedly -- and do.

With My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 on screen I went to Palm Springs to catch it. I did so with little regard for the critics or their reviews. I trust Vardalos and her sense of humor, which seems in tune with my own. I wasn't disappointed.

While the sequel wasn't as funny as the original, it was a sweeter film in many ways. No, the Portokalos family hasn't changed much, except there are a lot more of them. They are just as loud and Greek as they were before, but they were also there for each other. It reminded me of what Marcus (played by Nicholas Hoult) said in About a Boy: "Suddenly I realized - two people isn't enough. You need backup. If you're only two people, and someone drops off the edge, then you're on your own. Two isn't a large enough number. You need three at least." Well, Vardalos saw his "three" and raised him by a dozen or two.

Such large families are a rarity in modern America. Perhaps one as cohesive and mutually supportive as the Portokalos family is equally rare. That doesn't mean it isn't wonderful to enter their world, even if for only an hour an half.

I didn't expect Academy Award material. I expected to smile. I hoped to laugh. I wasn't disappointed. It reaffirmed my sense of life--it was a film that actually affirmed life as something worth having, living, and living well--something I fear many critics have long forgotten about. Thanks Nia, I love your world.