You can't go home again, at least in this movie. You can feel the strain all over this sequel to 2002's My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The charm of the original snuck up on us 14 years ago. The film's star Nia Vardalos carved the script out of her own life as a woman who defied her Greek parents, had a makeover and married a non-Greek Adonis. Actress Rita Wilson, also Greek, loved the concept and with her husband Tom Hanks, produced the film with Vardalos in the lead. On a chump-change $5 million budget, the movie took in $368 million worldwide to become the highest-grossing romcom of all time. Opa!
So why does this followup fall so painfully flat? The entire cast and crew is back — director Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Divine) is the only major newbie — pushing the same brand of ethnic humor. And I mean, really pushing. The appealing Vardalos returns as Toula Portokalos, now settled into marriage with hunky Ian (John Corbett), a school principal. Raising their teen daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris) has crowded sex out of their relationship, though Toula's Greek family still crowds into every corner of her existence in Chicago. Loud and overbearing, they're lovable until they're not. It doesn't help that Vardalos has written them variations on the same gags she used the first time. Her father Gus (Michael Constantine, 88, and still eloquent just by shrugging his shoulders) keeps using Windlex as a cure-all and claiming that the Greeks invented everything, this time updated to include Facebook. Her mom Maria (the ever-feisty Lainie Kazan) is getting tired of his act.
So are we. Vardalos tries to add a feminist subtext: Toula wants to support her daughter's desire to leave home, get into NYU, and escape her suffocating family. And Maria thinks she's found an out when it's discovered — plot-stretcher alert — that her marriage certificate to Gus was never signed by a priest. She's free! But the threat is toothless. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is really about getting Toula's parents remarried. Cue the big family reunion. Everybody's happy.
But how can they be? It's tough to watch good actors, especially Andrea Martin as Aunt Voula, rinse-recycle-repeat the same jokes. Going back to the well too often helped end My Big Fat Greek Life, the 2003 sitcom Vardalos developed from her movie, in two short months. What once bubbled up from a sincere love of Greek family has now congealed into the all-too-familiar Hollywood tale of milking a cash cow until cries for mercy. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 talks plenty about the need to change with the times. But no way does this movie buy into the concept of practice what you preach.