'My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2' Review: Only Die-Hard Fans of the Original Will Be Charmed

PHOTO: Nia Vardalos, left, and John Corbett in a scene from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2."George Kraychyk/AP Photo
Nia Vardalos, left, and John Corbett in a scene from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2."

Starring Nia Vardalos and John Corbett

Raged PG-13

Two out of five stars

The sequel to the 2002 low-budget romantic comedy that became a global smash hit, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" more or less picks up in real time with where those characters are now. Toula -- again played by creator and writer Nia Vardalos -- and her still not-Greek husband, Ian (John Corbett), have a 17-year-old daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris), who’s rebelling against her mother’s suffocating ways, rendering Toula heartbroken.

At the same time, Toula’s marriage to Ian has become rote, and her Greek family, all of whom now live on the same block next to each other, is still suffocating not only Toula, but also Paris. Being the bright young person she is, Paris wants to go to college -- one far away from mom and family.

There’s also a contrivance here: Toula’s parents discover, because of a glitch on their marriage certificate, that they’re not legally married. I’m not saying it’s an absurd idea but the way it’s handled here is absurd. It simply doesn’t ring true.

If you love filmmaking, then you should love the creative spirit behind "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," and that’s Vardalos. The realization of her dream is a great Hollywood story: actress Rita Wilson catches Nia’s one-woman show and loves it. She sends her husband, actor/producer Tom Hanks, to see it and he loves it, so he sends his producing partner to see it. They approach Nia and tell her they want to turn her stage show into a movie -– one that cost $5 million dollars to make and went on to earn over $241 million domestically and just under $369 million globally. It also stayed in theaters for an incredible 360 days.

Filled with colorful and complete characters with a strong female voice at the center of it all, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" was charming, funny and relatable, and it made Vardalos a star. But there’s a downside to that sort of immediate success: it sets an incredibly high bar for subsequent success. Just as M. Night Shyamalan will likely never be able to repeat the critical and commercial success he had with "The Sixth Sense," Vardalos will likely never be able to repeat the success she enjoyed with "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."

Indeed, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" fails because Vardalos tries too hard to repeat the organic success of the first movie. A better business decision would’ve been to have her write the script and then play a very minor role in the movie, rather than star in it. Vardalos is a solid comedic performer with terrific comedic concepts, but -- and I really hate to say this -- she’s not a strong actress.

For fans of the first movie, there are sentimental callbacks and a few pleasing moments, most of which occur when Toula’s scene-stealing grandmother appears on screen, while the most truthful and compelling moments are when Toula interacts with Paris. Otherwise, it never feels like Vardalos is emotionally engaged with her own material. In fact, Paris is the most interesting character in the film, which leaves me wondering what could have been had the movie focused more on her struggles, and less on Toula.

Some of the callbacks to the first movie will probably charm the die-hards, but I’m guessing the most satisfying moment for most people will be when "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" finally ends.