FAMILY, GREECE, AND A
Back in 2002, the surprise hit of the year was in the form of the family comedy movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. In a nutshell, the movie followed Fotoula “Toula” Portokalos, an American Greek woman who falls in love with a non-Greek male named Ian Miller, which causes Toula’s large Greek family a lot of anxiety and intrigue with her new blooming relationship of marrying someone “outside” of being Greek. The movie’s plot, while not unheard of its genre, was a success as well as its comedy antics and gags, garnishing a place for My Big Fat Greek Wedding as the fifth highest grossing movie that year. Many were expecting (and hoping) for a sequel follow-up immediately following, but were somewhat surprised when writer / star Nia Vardalos wanted to continue the feature on the small screen with the 2003 television show “My Big Fat Greek Life”. Unfortunately, with a declining rating after each subsequent week on airing episode, the television show was canceled (only premiering seven episodes in its first season) and ultimately dooming the franchise from resurfacing on any media platform. However, with the recent show of success with long belated movie sequels making a “comeback”, it was time to dust of the Portokalos’s family with the release of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 in 2016. The movie, which was directed Kirk Jones, saw many of the returning acting talents (and added some new ones), while following still following the Portokalos family, including Toula relationship with her father and dealing with her teenage daughter (Paris). Receiving mixed reviews from critics, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 still manage to find its moviegoer audience by raking in $90 million at the box office against its $18 million production budget; deeming the sequel a success. Now, seven years after the release of the follow-up sequel to the 2002 sequel, it’s time to get reacquainted once again with everyone’s favorite Greek family as Focus Features and director Nia Vardalos release the next installment in the franchise that’s appropriately titled My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3. Is this “threequel” worth a glance for longtime fans of the series (and close out the narrative that began long ago) or has that special “Greek Voodoo” wore out its magic on this tiresome story?
Gus, patriarch of the Greek Portokalos family, has recently passed away, leaving his daughter, Toula (Nia Vardalos), to deal with her family, facing her own leadership control as “head of the family” with her brother, Nick (Louis Mandylor), while the siblings at her dealing with the decline of their mother, Maria (Lainie Kazan). Looking to celebrate the life of her father as well as looking to transfer ownership of his personal diary to some of his old friends, Toula organizes a trip to Greece, visiting her father’s village with husband, Ian (John Corbett), her daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris), and other members of the family, including Aunt Voula (Andrea Martin) and Aunt Freida(Maria Vacratsis), Once there, the group meets up with Victory (Melina Kotselou), the Mayor of Gus’s village who organized the reunion, but they soon realize the residence in the community has dwindled down to a handful, while Toula learns she has a half-brother. As Toula confronts her history and facing no hot leads into finding Gus’s old friends, Nick tries to deal with loss of his father, and Paris struggles with her academic probation at college, while confronted with a sudden reunion of ex-boyfriend, Aristotle (Elias Kacavas), with hopes rekindling their love for one another.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Borrowing some lines from my review of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, I can honestly say that when My Big Fat Greek Wedding originally came out back in 2002, I wasn’t interested in seeing the movie. I heard people talking about it that year, but it never really crossed my mind to see it. A couple of years later, I actually decided to sit down and watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding (I think it was HBO) and the movie to be quite funny. Even at my family gatherings (with my extended family members) we quote that movie all the time and have a good laugh. Indeed, a movie that took only 5 million to make and grossed over 368 million worldwide was quite a sleeper success story. After seeing the movie, I (like many) was sort hoping to see a sequel movie. I heard about the TV show (My Big Fat Greek Life), but actually never saw it. Flash forward to 2016 and with the release of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, which (like many) was quite a surprise release for me. Of course, it wasn’t a “massive” big hit with critics or even surpassed the original film, but it was a nice follow-up entry that certainly did its job and help us (the viewers) get reacquainted with entire Portokalos family once more. Definitely one of the better belated sequels around that time of year and certainly had its “Greek” charm to make it a decent feature and memorable sequel.
This brings me back around to talking about My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3, 2023 romantic comedy endeavor and the follow-up sequel to both the 2002 film and its 2017 counterpart respectfully. Given the mild success that second movie was able to achieve, it showed that the audiences were still interested in the Portokalos family. So, it was almost a forgone conclusion that a third installment would be greenlit. However, due to the project being labeled as an “independent” and not receiving studio insurance amid the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak, the movie was delayed several times and did actually start filming until 2022, with a release date set for the following year. To be honest, I really didn’t hear much about this film until I began to see the movie trailer for the project appearing at my local movie theater during the “coming attractions” previews. From the trailer alone, it looked to be quite amusing with the same type of quirky and zany fun that the previous two movies had, especially with most of the returning cast coming back to reprise their characters. From a story preceptive, it looked to be interesting, especially since the movie’s plot centered around actually going to Greece as the primary setting. So, while not a slam dunk “must see” movie to see, I was quite intrigued to see what this new sequel would offer and decided to check out My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 when it was scheduled to be release in September 2023. Unfortunately, I was on vacation (out of the country) when the movie was initially released in theaters, so I had to wait a few weeks to see the movie and then had to complete some other reviews that I needed to finish first before tackling this one. Now that have cleared out those reviews, I’m finally ready to share my opinion on this threequel presentation. And what did I think of it? Well, unfortunately, I found the project to be disappointing. Despite the cute fun of the picture and seeing the cast having come back as everyone’s silly family, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 is a messy sequel that to overstuffed and rushed to make sense of this family affair dramedy. There’s some likeability to the project, but it is buried underneath a disjointed presentation that makes this feature the weakest installment of the franchise.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 is directed by Nia Vardalos, whose previous directorial works include the film I Hate Valentine’s Day. Thus, Vardalos makes this movie her “sophomore” directorial project and it’s nice to see her direct a film that she has a lot of passion before, especially since she directs, writes, and stars in the feature. Of course, Vardalos has had plenty of knowledge of the innerworkings of this franchise since she’s been there from the beginning, so it’s quite easy for her maneuver and navigate this third installment in the Greek Wedding series. For her part, Vardalos makes the whole endeavor feel like the previous ones, carrying the same type of energy and fun throughout the entire experience, which (buy and large) is a good thing. I somewhat look at the Greek Wedding movies as “comfort food” ….something that change up the “status quo” of the movie, yet still is friendly reminder of what’s good. Vardalos seems to keep that mind and creates a very familiar dramedy that, while doesn’t color outside the lines (I didn’t expect the project to be any different) reinforces those fundamentals of what made the first two movies, especially the first one, enjoyable to watch. Thus, the familiarity of those lighthearted moments is sort of like the “bread and butter” for the feature, with Vardalos framing the movie those signatures identities that the series was known for.
Plus, unlike the previous two installments, Vardalos gets the opportunity to take the Portokalos family to Greece and she has a lot of fun doing so. Heck, while the characters shuffling in the movie (characterizations and personal journeys) aren’t quite fleshed correctly, it’s quite easy to see the entire cast is having fun doing this movie, including Vardalos herself. Additionally, there are some tenderness in the movie is that (again) is comforting to watch, especially seeing how the various family members of the Portokalos try and work out their personal problems and issues. In the end, while not the greatest of the series, Vardalos does make My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 a sort of “passion project” for the feature and continues the same bravado of love, family, and Greek comedy antics.
For its presentation, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 looks quite picturesque for a lot of its scenic background motifs and other visual setting nuances. While the movie doesn’t have much in the way of blockbuster flair or a large production budget, it definitely makes up for within its primary set-pieces and other setting aspects. As mentioned above, this sequel’s story is mostly set in Greece, with the production taking advantage of the notion and actually filmed on location in the ancient Greek land, especially in both Athens and Corfu areas. Thus, the beneficial on having “real world” locales (beaches, forests, hills, villages, etc.) helps build upon the film’s movie world and it’s all for the better; giving My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 that true “Greek” feeling of the old-world vibe throughout most of the feature. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” key players, including Grant Armstrong (production design), Chloros George and Michael Standish (set decorations), Timothy A. Wonsik (costume design), and Annette Davey and Craig Herring (art direction), should be noted for their efforts in making the film’s background setting look so appealing and beautiful in almost every shot. The cinematography Barry Peterson is pretty decent in a few areas, which definitely helps sell the more “cinematic” moments of the feature, but most of them sequences are in the wide and / or shots of set pieces and landscapes. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Stephanie Economou, is also pretty decent in the movie. It’s not the best soundtrack / score that I’ve heard of, but still keeps a fun and tender feeling musical composition that definitely keeps in tone with the movie.
Unfortunately, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 suffers greatly from character mismanagement and the “lack” urgency throughout most of its narrative progression, with numerous, glaring areas that draw heavy scrutiny on important criticisms. How so? Well, for starters, the movie is way too (and I put a large emphasis on this) disjointed. Who is to blame for this perhaps Vardalos, who (as mentioned) stars, directors, and wrote the script for the movie as this becomes a classic serving “too many masters”. From a writer’s stance, the movie’s script handling is quite limp and messy, despite the promising setup. The actual overall plot is perhaps the biggest culprit for this as it sort of “peppers out” and becomes heavier on smaller subplots. Thus, the large problem of Toula and her family trying to find her father’s old friend gets pushes aside many times in favor of other conflicts that really don’t amount to much, yet should be important at the same time (Toula’s half-brother revelation feels so out of place and half-baked and never fully materializes beyond the whole “shock and awe”). What starts out as a strong narrative of the main plot ultimately devolves into a series of smaller narrative bits that the various characters have to overcome, which renders the “major” tale of the story rather forgetful and incomplete.
This makes the film’s script, which (again) was penned by Vardalos, rather weak and way too overstuffed, finding the project too crammed with too many ideas. With so many ideas and character subplots to navigate and present, the script for My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 meanders way off course multiple times and delves into many personal issues / problems within the Portokalos. The end result is that the feature (mainly the script) never fully commits to each of those said subplots, which makes those very same narrative threads rather limp, surface level, and just unfinished, with the project trying to wrap them up (vaguely) by the time the movie’s reaches its resolution. There are just way too many ideas that Vardalos wanted to convey in the script, but it comes off as to contrive and way too busy, with most (if not all) never reaching a satisfying conclusion. What makes it even worse is the overall comedy of the feature. While the franchise has always been known for its off beat / quirky humor implanted in the past, what’s presented in this latest offering is dated and basically flat. Basically, the various jokes and gags that are presented don’t exactly land their plane / target exactly and just comes off as unfunny, which is never good for a comedy endeavor. I did chuckle once or twice, but that was it.
From a director’s standpoint, Vardalos seems to inexperience to handle a project like this. That’s not to say that My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 is a complexed and dense project and that she’s completely out of her depth by helming a film like this, but it’s quite clear she doesn’t know how to manage both story and characters on this endeavor. The organization skill of a director is about knowing how to approach a scene and how to bring the film’s script to life (by ways and means of camera lens) of which brings the said scene from “page to screen”. Vardalos does seem to struggle in converting that notion, grappling with the “management” of juggling the various character (of which the movie has too many) and their own personal character subplots. She has a vision for the movie, but lacks conviction and a solid execution. What’s made even worse is that she keeps the feature’s runtime rather slim, which I do praise to some degree, but this makes most of the subplots and characters in the film feel rather rushed and flat. The film feels like it needed another hour or so to make sense of all its branching narrative threads for a more well-rounded experience and bring each of those subplots to a proper conclusion. Thus, the finish product of the feature comes off as just as mess and Vardalos (try as she might) is overtaken by the project and perhaps needed a co-director to bring this third installment to life.
Lastly, as a minor quibble, I felt that the movie’s closing moments were underwhelming. I don’t know what the idea is for the conclusion of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3…. like is just another installment in the franchise or does it cap off the series in a trilogy fashion. If it’s the latter, the ending shown is quite weak and unfulfilling and if it’s former….it’s still a weak conclusion to the story being told. It just leaves a sour taste and I definitely felt that the movie’s script could’ve added a lot more to “close out” this third entry in the franchise.
The cast in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 is perhaps the saving grace for the movie as many of the classic favorites of the Portokalos clan reprising their roles for another quirky cinematic adventure. However, all the various characters (both old and new) are inconsistent and are too haphazardly placed on their own personal journey in the story that it becomes incredibly problematic throughout the entire endeavor. Thus, the screen presence of the cast have to the “carry” the feature, but even them can’t hold the feature’s glaring problems. Much as before, leading the charge for the movie is actress Nia Vardalos, who once again returns to reprise her character role of Fotoula “Toula” Portokalos. Of course, Vardalos is well known for her role in the My Big Fat Greek Wedding series, but also for her roles in My Life in Ruins and I Hate Valentine’s Day. One can even say that this particular franchise is sort of a “passion project” for Vardalos, especially with her involvement on this project as both the lead in front and behind the camera. Thus, her involvement is quite admirable and she clearly seems to be having fun returning to her role as Toula and the family drama. She still remains the “beating heart” of these movies, with My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 prove that point and clearly is steadfast in sometimes “carrying the feature” on her shoulders, especially in the more storytelling / plot beat moments. Although, her character doesn’t really get much to do as Toula basically just pushes events forward and solving some minor problems with her family members. She even has a great piece with finding out she has a half-brother, but the script just merely glosses over that notion, which is awkward. In the end, it’s nice to see Vardalos playing Toula again, but her character is poorly written to the story; acting more of a glue to everyone else and nothing more.
Likewise, actor John Corbett, who is known for his roles in Northern Exposure, The Messengers, and Serendipity, continues to be a likeable character in Ian Miller, Toula’s non-Greek husband. Like before, he sort of brings as a sensible “voice of reason” to most situation’s in the plot, especially those considering Vardalos’s Toula. Plus, I do have to admit that, even though there older-looking, I feel that both Vardalos and Corbett make for a cute people together, which can be seeing with their on-screen chemistry together. That being said, the character of Ian doesn’t really have much to do in this movie and ends up getting lost in the main narrative, only to make an appearance every now and again.
Naturally, Toula and Ian’s daughter, Paris, who was introduced in the previous film and who is once again played by actress Elena Kampouris (Scared Lies and Before I Fall), makes an impact on the story, but not having one subplot, but two, with one being her sudden encounter with her ex (Aristotle) on the trip and the other facing her collegiate probation. There’s an attempt to flesh this out, but it comes off as weak and never fully realized. Kampouris is (again) fine in the role as she was before in the last movie, but her character is severely reduced, despite her plot arc being paramount and being focused in a few areas. Again, this all goes back to the film’s script shortchanging a lot of the various side characters and just being “way too busy” for its own good.
Of the supporting characters, Aunt Voula continues to be quite the “scene stealer” of the entire endeavor, with actress Andrea Martin (Great News and Black Christmas) up to the task in making the most of her character. Like before, there isn’t much “character growth” in the feature, but she makes the most of it, especially in her delivery of dialogues and has further proves that she is still the best and most memorable character of the entire franchise. Behind her, actor Louis Mandylor (Suckers and Rambo: Last Blood) reprises his character role of Nick, Toula’s brother and is more of comic relief in the feature. He has his own character subplot, but it doesn’t feel earned or fulfilled and the movie tries to showcase a lot of risqué adult humor in his character, which is probably why the project is rated PG-13. Mandylor certainly is having fun playing Nick again, but his character just feel half-baked.
Interestingly, actress Maria Vacratsis (Tommy Boy and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again) gets more screen time in this film as Aunt Theia Freida. She doesn’t have much of a character arc, but she is still makes the most of her screen time and a fun treat to watch her interact with other character more. Additionally, singer / actor Joey Fatone (Love Alaska and Christmas Wedding Planner) and actress Gia Carides (Stick It and Strictly Ballroom) do make a supporting appearance in the movie as Voula’s kids / Toula’s cousins (Angelo and Nikki), but their inclusion in the movie feels very shoehorned in and rather flat. Lastly, actress Laine Kazan (Gigli and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan) does make cameo-like appearance in the movie as Maria, Toula’s mom and the matriarch of the Portokalos clan, but her involvement in the movie is minimal and her character, who is suffering from dementia, is more of afterthought in the story and isn’t brought up much, despite the severity of it all. Again, another disappointment, especially since Maria, like Gus, played an instrumental part in the previous two Greek Wedding pictures.
Other familiar characters like actor Gerry Mendicino (Luck Number Slevin and Ready or Not) as Aunt Voula’s husband Uncle Taki, actress Jayne Eastwood (Dawn of the Dead and Workin’ Moms) as Mrs. White, actress Stavroula Logothettis (Avengers: United They Stand and Hurt) as Toula and Nicky’s sister Athena, actor Peter Tharos (Beyond What Remains and The Summit) as Athena’s husband Yanni, actress Kathyrn Haggis (Detroit Rock City and It’s a Boy Girl Thing) as Cousin Marianthi, actress Chrissy Paraskeevopoulos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding and The Division) as Cousin Jennie, actress Kathyrn Greenwood (Wind at My Back and Unless) as Marge, actress Tannis Burnett (The Expanse and Lars and the Real Girl) as Edie, and actress Jeanie Calleja (Pond Life and Get Over It) as Ilaria, make an appearance in the movie as minor supporting characters. These cameo-like appearances are limited (presumably making way for new characters in the story), but there overall inclusion in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 helps bridge that continuity aspect.
As for the new characters…well…they’re okay, yet still find hollow due to the film’s limitations in narrative structure and the “rushed” feeling that the film utilizes. Of course, they are welcomed additions, but never are allotted any time to make a lasting impression. Perhaps the best example of this is in the character of Victory, the young mayor for Gus’s old village and who is played by Melina Kotselou (Magma and Hymos portkali). She’s an interesting character and does have a lot comedic levity in her screen time (even though some of her jokes fall flat), but I felt like Victory is a one-note player that could’ve been easily expanded upon. Of course, Kotselou is fine in the role, but comes off as a missed opportunity. The same can be said with actor Elias Kacavas (Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin and Mercy) as Aristotle, a young man who joins the Portokalos family on their trip to Greece and who is also Paris’s ex-boyfriend. Kacavas’s acting is fine in the part, but the character of Aristotle is rather a moot point, getting lost amongst the other characters (both old and new ones). The scenes with him and Kampouris’s Paris are okay, but it’s just more to bounce off her problems and ideas and nothing more, which (again) makes for a rather flat and boring character.
Behind those two, actress Anthi Andreopoulou (Tis agapis mahairia and Ta hamena grammata) is perhaps the big “scene stealer” of the new cast, who plays Alexandra, an old and stogy elderly woman and Gus’s old flame. While not exactly the best character of the entire film (or even written), she makes her screen time feel fun and acts has a more of the comedy bits that actually works in the film than others. She’s more of a supporting player, so her “surface level” persona didn’t bother me as much. However, the remaining three new characters, including actor Alexis Georgoulis (My Life in Ruins and The Durrells), actor Giannis Vasilottos (Wild Bees and Ageli provaton), and actress Stephanie Nur (Special Ops: Lioness and 1883), are woefully underdeveloped as Peter, Alexandra’s son and Toula / Nick’s half-brother, Christos, Peter’s son, and Qamar, a Syrian refugee who is in love with Christos. It’s truly sad to see this because the script certainly wants to examine these characters, who do have some important things to say within the context of the narrative, especially Peter, but that same script shortchanges them entirely. Thus, their appearance in the feature comes off as clunky and sometimes awkward, with an inconsistent nature of new characters that are rushed and only “surface level” characterization due to a crammed and overstuffed story.
To honor their late patriarch, the Portokalos family heads to Greece, yet soon discover that returning to the “mother land” will open up new challenges and confront inner struggles in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3. Director Nia Vardalos’s film continues what began in 2002 and expanded upon in the 2017 sequel for another family affair journey of humor and self-discovery, see its various characters overcome personal woes and troubles, while also staying connected to their endearing (yet sometimes silly) Greek family. While the movie still offers plucky story and quirky fun as well as solid visual presentation, the film itself is riddled with poor execution, especially from its inexperienced directional work, a jumbled script, poor pacing, mostly stale humor, the underutilization of its cast and the lackluster (and unfinished) characters. Personally, I found this movie disappointing. Yes, the movie does have some amusing moments and the feature definitely has its “heart in the right place”, but the whole endeavor feels too disjointed, too rushed, and too crammed to make a wholesome / cohesive project. It was fun to see the cast again, but (again) there was too much going on and too little time to spend with most of them. If this movie is to close out the franchise, it ends on unsatisfying note, which is disheartening to say the least. Thus, one can imagine that my recommendation for this film would be a solid “skip it”, even if you were a fan of the original and its sequel. It’s just such a shame that this movie was so sloppy and haphazardly put together. If a fourth installment is made, it would be need to have a massive overhaul in almost all aspects, but, given the reception of this feature….that idea seems unlikely. In the end, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 tries to emulate the same type of “Greek magic” of what made story of the Portokalos family so loveable, but unsuccessfully executes its tale with too many vagueness and a mashed together story for a disjointed and forgettable threequel presentation.
2.3 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: September 8th, 2023
Reviewed On: October 19th, 2023
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 is 92 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for suggestive material and some nudity