“OPA!” This is the sound that you get when you press play on the DVD for My Big Fat Greek Wedding – already a good start. Then comes the Greek music that accompanies the opening credits – even better.
This unapologetic celebration of everything Greek is a theme that continues throughout the movie, and is just one of the things that makes My Big Fat Greek Wedding my favourite film; even after watching it for what must be the thirtieth time to pick out some ideas for this article- not that I couldn’t recite the whole film off by heart already.
The film follows Fotoula “Toula” Portokalos, a swarthy Greek girl growing up in suburban America with an incredibly overbearing family. The Portokalos guilt-trip Toula into working in the Greek family restaurant (Dancing Zorba’s), sitting through dates with undesirable Greek bachelors and going to Greek school – where she learns to ask the real questions in life, such as the number of goats you need to secure a decent marriage prospect.
Needless to say, Toula is not interested in any of this. After surviving the relentless trials of high school as the odd one out, she goes through the classic movie makeover and blossoms into a beautiful, independent woman.
Unsurprisingly she finds a very American boyfriend who could not be further from the typical Greek boy that her father, Gus, envisages for her. Ian Miller (or EE-AN in Grenglish) is a vegetarian, a high school teacher and worst of all he doesn’t even own a goat. As you have probably guessed from the title – Ian eventually proposes to Toula – and the culture clash of the century ensues.
Much like Toula herself, My Big Fat Greek Wedding progressed from humble origins to great things; it was filmed with a small budget and never reached number one at the box office during its release, yet went on to become the highest grossing rom-com of all time. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 was even released last year; although, as is the sad truth with many sequels, it is somewhat disappointing.
One of the reasons why the original film has been so successful is that it captures the Greek stereotype perfectly. From the stifling family love to the obscene patriotism, all of it is accurate.
I am qualified to tell you this because as a swarthy half-Greek girl this film is far too relatable for comfort. The character of Gus Portokalos might as well have been based on my father, and every time I complain about our unpronounceable surname I am dutifully reminded that I am blessed to be Greek, and that everybody who isn’t Greek, wishes to be Greek. I am yet to decide whether this is an ancient Greek adage or just another stroke of genius on the part of the film’s screenwriter.
But even if you don’t have ten cousins called Nick and a Greek flag painted on your garage door, you can still relate to this uplifting coming of age film. I mean, who hasn’t struggled with teenage insecurity and the worry that your family is ever so slightly crazy?
Every time I find someone else that has seen the film they chuckle, and quote one of the many hilarious one-liners back to me. Some of my personal favourites include Gus’ many attempts to show that all words derive from a Greek word. By the end of the film you will have learnt that kimono, arachnophobia and even Ian Miller’s surname all have Greek origins. Or so Gus’ distorted etymological reasoning would have us believe.
Although the film was released in 2002, its content is more relevant today than ever. In a society where the questions of national identity and immigration have become more and more political, it is refreshing to watch a comedy where the characters set aside their differences and embrace the merging of different cultures. Towards the end of the film Gus reminds us that even if our surnames come from different origins; Portokulos (tenuously derived from the Greek word for ‘orange’) and Miller (even more tenuously derived from the Greek word for ‘apple’), in the end we are all just different kinds of fruit.
The final narrative segment even makes you realise that no matter how odd your family and their habits might be, they really are worth putting up with. In mine and Toula’s case, yes, our families are big and loud. And they will probably always roast large quantities of meat on a spit at family gatherings. They will always be there for us, whether we like it or not.