Full disclosure: having to sit through "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" is, essentially, my idea of hell on earth. But in watching the film at a preview screening this week, I found that much of the audience seemed to think it was the best thing since sliced baklava. While I really don't begrudge anyone a good laugh, and it would be perverse to try to talk a person out of one, Nia Vardalos' 14-years-later sequel doesn't offer many "good" laughs. They're mostly retrograde "aren't ethnics funny?" laughs that would've felt more fitting in a movie 50 years ago than one from today.
First, some praise for Nia Vardalos, who wrote and starred in the 2002 romantic comedy based on her one-woman show. Then and now, Vardalos has created opportunities for herself, and she's not unappealing as the eye of Her Big Fat Greek Maelstrom. But that maelstrom -- the outlandish stereotypes, shameless mugging and vigorously trilled "r"s, cheap references (the Parthenon, feta cheese, opa!), and broad staging (including how the family lives in what looks like a Greek theme park dropped in the suburbs) -- it's all as warm and fuzzy and comforting (or not) as a Disney Channel show marketed more to parents than to their kids.
It's the joke that this Greek family is obnoxious, but the joke itself is obnoxious. So it's laughable when Vardalos pens a scene in which Toula berates a trio of jealous "Anglo" neighbors for standing in her driveway and laughing at her "weird" family. In context, the scene makes sense, but it's all too easy to take one step back and see that Vardalos is doing something that's perhaps worse: selling out her heritage and turning her family into cartoons to make monster profits off of cheap laughs.
Anyway, fans of the original have a good chance of warming to the sequel, which brings back marrieds Toula (Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) and her gaggle of extended-familial meddlers: mom Maria (Lainie Kazan), dad Gus (Michael Constantine), Aunt Voula (Andrea Martin), et al. Toula and Ian now have a 17-year-old daughter (Arielle Sugarman) to absorb the pressure to couple with a nice Greek boy, but she's not the blushing bride of this sequel's wedding. That honor goes to Maria, prompting a theme of neglected marriages in need of refreshing: yep, even Toula and Ian need to rekindle their flame, even as they fret about their daughter flying the coop to college.
So if "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" doesn't exactly have zero urgency, it's fair to say it suffers from low stakes as well as total predictability. Vardalos ticks off set pieces -- date night, hairdressing session with the gals, prom, wedding -- as director Kirk Jones alternates between a daffy and a sappy tone, with faux-Greek music or twinkly orchestration to tell us what to feel. Jones turns up the bright lights and positions the camera to catch every gaudy sit-comedic gag, but there's no inspiration here as Vardalos reprises running jokes from the 2002 film, which had the benefit of at least offering a fresh point of view, for Zeus's sake (see, it's easy!).
Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material. One hour, 34 minutes.