Nick Picks | Is Nia Vardalos a One-Hit Wonder?

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Some artists demonstrate great talent early in their careers and only get better as time goes by. Many artists, however, peak way too soon and can never recapture the same magic. A few notable examples include M. Night Shyamalan, Kevin Costner, the Wachowskis, and George Lucas. Another name that should be added to this list of one-hit wonders is Nia Vardalos, who wrote and starred in a little movie almost 14 years ago called My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Based on a one-woman stage play Vardalos developed, the screenplay for My Big Fat Greek Wedding caught the attention of Rita Wilson and her husband, Tom Hanks. With those two big names acting as producers, Vardalos’ passion project was able to get off the ground. Since the film cost a mere five million dollars to make, My Big Fat Greek Wedding would have been considered a success if it had only made 20 million dollars at the box office. This independent comedy would get much bigger than ever thought possible, however.

When My Big Fat Greek Wedding hit theaters back in 2002, nobody could’ve predicted that it would become the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time. Yet, the movie really snuck up on audiences with its heart, humor, and charm. Great things seemed to lie on the horizon for Vardalos, who scored an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Ever since getting her big break, though, Vardalos has been caught in a downhill spiral.

Less than a year after My Big Fat Greek Wedding was released, she reprised her role in a sitcom entitled My Big Fat Greek Life. Since the film was already kind of like a feature-length sitcom, it made sense that the franchise would continue on television. Alas, My Big Fat Greek Life just didn’t live up to its potential and only lasted several episodes. Vardalos went on to take part in a number of other romantic comedies such as My Life in Ruins, I Hate Valentine’s Day, and Larry Crowne, all of which bombed with critics and audiences alike.

After one failed project after another, Vardalos has returned to the movie that made her a star with My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. This long-awaited sequel seems to be Vardalos’s last chance to prove that she’s not just a one-hit wonder. After all this time, was My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 worth the wait, like Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, or does it leave something to be desired, like Zoolander 2? Let’s just say that your evening would probably be better spent eating a nice meal at My Big Fat Greek Restaurant.

Vardalos is of course back as Toula Portokalos-Miller, a Greek woman who chose to marry a non-Greek man. John Corbett also returns as Ian, Toula’s loving husband who patiently puts up with her overbearing family. They now have a teenage daughter named Paris (Elena Kampouris), who naturally feels suffocated by her parents and countless relatives. As for the big fat Greek wedding in question, it turns out that Toula’s mom and dad (Lainie Kazan and Michael Constantine) aren’t legally married. The priest never signed the marriage certificate and now they need to do the whole shebang over again.

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The biggest issue with My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is that there really isn’t much the filmmakers can do with these characters beyond one movie. Toula and John are pleasant people, but they’re basically a boring married couple now. Their daughter isn’t particularly interesting either, although Kampouris delivers a solid breakthrough performance. The rest of the clan can be fun in small doses, but a little of them goes a long way. All of the comedy here revolves around Toula’s family getting too close for comfort, which really starts to get old after awhile.

With tired jokes, underdeveloped subplots, and a recycled story, it just never feels like My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 had to exist. To give the film some credit, the actors are trying. Although they aren’t given especially funny dialog to work with, the cast has great chemistry and everybody involved gives it their all. You really believe that these people are a close-knit family and its clear that they’re all happy to be together again. Unfortunately, this sequel ultimately plays out like a family reunion where you’re not related to anybody attending. It may be fun for the people on screen, but not so much for the audience.

Like the rest of her cast, you can tell Vardalos is trying in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. You could even argue that she’s trying in every project she takes on, which is more than can be said about Adam Sandler or those schmucks that made Meet the Spartans. The problem is that her range as a writer and actress is unfortunately limited. As hard as Vardalos tries to make her audience laugh, everything she’s done since My Big Fat Greek Wedding has felt like a lesser retread. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 just seems to prove that she’s run out of gas and has nowhere else to go.

Of course nobody’s future is etched in stone. Many artists have bounced back after a series of failures, proving that they weren’t one-hit wonders. If Ben Affleck could recover over a decade after Good Will Hunting, maybe Vardalos could come back with a smart, innovative hit one day. Unless she starts to grow as an artist, however, she’ll just be remembered as the woman who made My Big Fat Greek Wedding…and it’s unnecessary sequel.

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About Nick Spake

Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years, but he's been a lover of film ever since seeing the opening sequence of The Lion King. Movies are more than just escapism to Nick, they're a crucial part of our society that shape who we are. He now serves as the Features Editor at Flickreel and author of its regular column, 'Nick Flicks'.

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