Canadian born Nia Vardalos started 2002 as a struggling actress but finished the year with an Oscar nomination. She was the very definition of an overnight sensation. The low budget movie adaptation of her stage show My Big Fat Greek Wedding was the fifth highest grossing movie of the year and became the highest grossing romantic comedy in history. Then came some missteps. A sitcom based on the movie, which one writer dubbed My Big Fat Mistake, was cancelled after just a handful of episodes and an ill conceived (and unfunny) follow-up called Connie and Carla crashed and burned at the box office. And then nothing. For the last four years multi-plexes have been Vardaless zone, but that changes this weekend when her new film, My Life in Ruins, takes her back to where it all began, the Greek Isles.
Vardalos plays Georgia, a neurotic Greek American tour guide who takes groups of, as she says, “obnoxious Americans, miserable married couples and old people” on day trips through Greece. She’s unhappy, unsatisfied and unlikely to improve her love life while trotting through Greece with groups of elderly American day-trippers. That is until she meets Irv Gordon (Richard Dreyfuss) who gives her a lesson in how to have fun and points out that love may be closer than she thinks.
This has been a good year on film for the ancient world. Angels & Demons showed off some of Rome’s most beautiful attractions, and now My Life in Ruins does the same thing for Greece. Good for tourism, maybe not as good for movie goers.
You know there’s trouble when one of the lead character’s names is Poopi Cacas and he has a nephew named Doodi Cacas. I’ll tell you, the character Poopi Cacas isn’t the only thing about this movie that is poopi cacas. A sitcom script that tries in vain to mix comedy with heartwarming doesn’t do anyone any favors, the actors or the audience.
Not once, but twice a character says to Vardalos, “You’re not funny. Stop trying.” If only she had taken that advice. She is likeable, and that gives the movie whatever warmth it has, but her broad comic style is better suited to the stage than the screen. Blown up to feature size her performance is revealed to be made up entirely of rolling eyes and quirky facial expressions. It’s like British pantomime with a Hellenic twist.
No one really survives the film with their dignity intact. Richard Dreyfuss, once the star of classics like Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind is firmly entrenched in the “old coot” phase of his career, and one has to wonder if things had worked out for Rachel Dratch on 30 Rock if she would ever even have considered reading this script, let alone sign on to play an unfunny stereotype.
It would be easy (and snarky) to say that My Life in Ruins should have been titled My Career in Ruins, but you never know, this could catch on with the same audience that made My Big Fat Greek Wedding a hit, but if you do go, go for the scenery and not the comedy.