- “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was first released in theaters on April 19, 2002.
- The indie romantic comedy, starring and written by Nia Vardalos, broke the mold of the genre.
- It presented an alternative to the standard narrative that you have to leave home to find yourself.
“My Big Fat Greek Wedding” pushed the boundaries of what — and where — a coming-of-age story or romantic comedy could be.
Nia Vardalos wrote the standalone film, which began as a one-woman play she also wrote, directed and starred in, which follows Toula Portokalos (Vardalos) as she transforms from a 30-year-old family wallflower into a a blushing bride. Along the way, she blossoms into a more confident woman who is more willing to pursue what she wants, even if she does it underhandedly to appease cultural norms.
Her marriage may be the backdrop for her evolution, but it’s her commitment to herself that sets the plot in motion.
“My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was a sleeper hit way ahead of its time
The 2002 film directed by Joel Zwick was unique for several reasons, including its unexpected success. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was a sleeper hit. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film, which first hit theaters in the United States on April 19, 2002, and then expanded to a wider worldwide theatrical release in August, eventually grossed $368 million worldwide on a announced a budget of $5 million.
In 2016 it was most commercially successful independent film of all time.
Twenty years later, as a generation rethinks the kind of life they want and where they want to live it, they are holding on. The story of Vardalos shows how easily one can change one’s life without abandoning one’s community or sacrificing one’s beliefs.
The evolution of the protagonist takes place in the “normal middle-class neighborhood of Chicago” she has lived all her life instead of a metropolis she moved to in search of herself.
This choice subverts the popular trope of a small-town girl fleeing her hometown to find out who she is and what she wants in the big city, something we’ve seen time and time again in movies like “Sweet Home Alabama”, “The devil wears Prada”. “, and so many others.
The typical glam makeover montage is replaced with a swipe of drugstore blush and the addition of a slightly dodgy denim jacket, but Toula serves up the same amount of main character energy as Andy Sachs in venerable Chanel boots.
Toula wishes out loud to be a “braver, or prettier, or just happy” version of herself, not a completely different person. There’s no moral dilemma in throwing a colleague under the bus or sacrificing memories with a loved one to achieve a lifelong ambition.
There’s just one woman in her thirties who is reinventing her life in subtle ways that suit her.
Toula is a unique protagonist for her personal growth without having to sacrifice family relationships or change the core of who she is.
Unlike the heroines who comically dodge their family’s calls before being forced to visit them via a plot, Toula complains about her family but has genuine affection for them. Throughout the film, it is important for her to maintain the bonds she has with them, and she does so without giving up on her personal quest for happiness.
Toula begins to take small steps towards achieving her goal at home, becoming a happier and more complete person with everyone. Initially frustrated that “nothing ever changes”, she walks towards this change by expressing her desire to go to a nearby college and change careers. She doesn’t convene a round table of girlfriends over $17 cocktails to achieve this.
Instead, she turns to the women in her family for support. They share values and perspectives and offer wisdom that neither ignores nor minimizes one’s lived experiences.
They help him join the family travel agency, instead of continuing to serve coffee refills in their restaurant.
Thanks to her new job, she manages to bring in her Prince Charming (Ian Miller, played by “Sex and the City” star John Corbett) rather than pursue him. Despite their chance meeting at the start of the film, he is not the center or even a major part of her self-improvement plan. He opens the door of the travel agency and enters.
Her seriousness is so inspiring that her fiancé says he “came to life” when they met. She even motivates her brother to try his luck at expressing himself through the arts.
The steps she takes to pursue the life she wants aren’t elaborate or elegant, but they are deliberate and effective.
She wants her world to be bigger but not unrecognizable. Making room for herself leads her to a love that feels genuine and deserved and it’s this journey that has shocked the film industry by filling theater seats.
Toula might end with the same zip code, but by the end of the film she lives in a totally different place.
“My Big Fat Greek Wedding” is currently stream on HBO Max.