Sunday, February 22, 2009

Resistance is futile

There are some movies I resist seeing on principle, that principle being that everyone is talking about it and tells me I should see it. It's what my grandfather called me being mule-headed, and he was right. I get that way on occasion, digging in my heels and refusing to do what is expected. When I finally do follow the herd to see what is so fascinating about the movie, I'm usually glad, as I was when I recently watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

The movie sounded like the usual fare of stereotypical immigrant jokes and a child appalled and embarrassed by her immigrant parents as they clung to old traditions and out-dated ideas, and I wasn't disappointed. There was the obligatory elder member of the family who had never been assimilated into American culture, clinging to her prejudices and language like a tick on a dog. The father of the clan was man of the house and his wife adept at thwarting his most antiquated plans for his children. American Romeo meets Greek Juliet and the Americans and Greeks try to find some common ground while failing to understand the others' cultural differences, like one very Greek aunt who invites American Romeo, who is a vegetarian, to dinner and saying, "It's okay. I fix lamb". Second City alumna do the usual ethnic jokes and caricatures and the main character, Toula, the Greek Juliet yearning to be more American, provides comic and wry narrative.

Toula, who looks like a 50-year-old spinster, undergoes the Ginger Grant makeover, changing her from frumpy woman old before her time into young and attractive date bait with the application of makeup, hair rollers and new clothes. It's amazing what waxing, plucking and contact lenses can accomplish.

The jokes are obvious and often funny. Greek Granny spying on the neighbors and spitting on the Turkeys is irritating at times and Greek dad's death hold cling on tradition, although it does not come close to Tevya's Jewish angst over seeing his daughters falling away from the tried and true rutted path, did make me laugh a few times. I do think the whole arranged marriage with the horrific and stereotypical bachelors for dinner was completely unfunny and done to death once again, but there were moments when the movie transcended genre and triteness.

We laugh at immigrants coming to America to find a balance between the ingrained traditions of their homeland and embracing the laissez faire attitude and new traditions of their new country, but I was especially touched by Greek dad's gift to Toula and her American Romeo (played by John Corbett who is great eye candy). Even though American Romeo came from a well-heeled family from the country club set, it was the generous gift of a house for the newlyweds from Greek Ma and Pa that left the most profound impact in this uneven and sometimes funny movie. It was an old world gesture and the embodiment of the American dream.

One thing is certain. I will never look at Windex in the same way again.

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