One thing that has been lost in streaming era is the movie of the week on free-to-air television. Growing up without Foxtel or Austar I was left to ABC, WIN (Nine Network), Channel Ten and Prime (Channel Seven), with Prime easily reigning supreme with their selection of Friday and Saturday night films. There are four films that stuck with me from this time - both 'Sister Act' movies, 'The Princess Diaries' and the romantic comedy classic 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding'.
Starting as a one-woman play by Nia Vardalos, who would also write and star in the film, the show discussed her family life and being married at the time to non-Greek actor, Ian Gomez. The play became a massive success, selling out for most of its run, and attracting many Hollywood figures including Rita Wilson and her husband Tom Hanks. The show started to be shopped around Hollywood but never took off due to attempts to change too many core elements including rewriting the family's ethnicity to Hispanic and casting more well-known actors in Vardalos' role. Once the show closed, Hanks finally approached Vardalos to make the film under his production company Playtone, ensuring she would be cast in the role to bring authenticity to the project - and the making of a classic began.
The film was released in the United States in April 2002, starting in a limited release before expanding and going on to gross an impressive US$368 million worldwide on a budget of just US$5 million, even today retaining the title of highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time. The film also held the title of being the highest-grossing film to never hit number one but was dethroned in 2016 by 'Sing', and is one of the most profitable films of all time, with a 6,150% return. The film was even nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 2003 Academy Awards.
There's something in the magic of the film that requires this film to be watched with someone - your Mum, at a family party or a friend's for a night in - if you look up "crowd-pleasing" in the dictionary, it will just have the poster for 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding'. I come from an Italian/Portuguese background, with my grandparents on both sides immigrating to Australia, and even though they are different cultures and experiences, those European parallels are all present in the film. Toula's story is a universal experience - and that's why it reaches millions of people to this day.
I come from an Italian/Portuguese background... Toula's story is a universal experience - and that's why it reaches millions of people to this day.
After the extreme success, the natural question arises: what happened next? A year later a series based on the film, 'My Big Fat Greek Life', aired with everyone but John Corbett reprising their roles. Even though the pilot debuted with a whopping 22.9 million viewers, the second episode dropped to 16.5 million which caused network CBS to worry and cancel the show after only seven episodes. Not much remains - I could only find one clip on YouTube - and it seems the Portokalos family's humour just doesn't fit the sitcom formula. It then wasn't till 2016 when we got 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2', with the entire original cast returning for another walk down the aisle. While not gaining the same critical or box office success as the first film, its still a fun watch. For being more polished and "Hollywood-looking", the sequel is more of a one-time watch before becoming relegated to being a companion piece.
'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' still oozes charm 20 years on. It not only pulls all of the heartstrings that a romantic comedy should, but due to its Greek flair stands the test of time for generations of families to enjoy. Cook some lamb (for your vegetarian friends), put a flower in your bunt cake - and most importantly, if you have a zit, put some Windex on it.