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Film review: "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" 

It's all Greek to me

A sleeper hit in 2002, the original "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" still holds the title of highest grossing romantic comedy of all time. That film earned writer and star Nia Vardalos an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, and it even spawned a short-lived television series. Considering the success the film achieved, it's shocking that it took this long for a sequel to come along.

Nearly 15 years later, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2," delivers the same broadly appealing, sitcom-style mix of sentimentality and ethnic humor. But while the final product is perfectly pleasant and enjoyable, it seems unlikely that lightning will strike twice. With a script once again written by Vardalos and a new director (Kirk Jones, "What to Expect When You're Expecting"), the new film may be slightly less distinctive (which isn't to say that the first was a beacon of originality), but it succeeds in recapturing the relaxed, easygoing charm of the original.

Where the first film saw Toula (Vardalos) sending her meddling, proudly Greek family into a tizzy when she decided to marry an American man, this new film follows her shift from the smothered to the smotherer as she and Ian (John Corbett) attempt to deal with their teenage daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris), beginning the process of heading off to college. With her mother a constant presence in her life, Paris wants space from her family and she faces the decision of whether she wants to go to school at the nearby Northwestern University, or take advantage of the opportunity to get as far away from her family as possible.

Meanwhile, Toula's Greek immigrant father, Gus (Michael Constantine), takes up an obsessive quest to prove that he is a direct descendant of Alexander the Great, and his research leads him and Toula's mother, Maria (Lainie Kazan), to discover that the priest never signed their marriage license, meaning that in all their years together, they were never actually married. Maria demands that Gus propose all over again, but he stubbornly refuses. It's not much of a spoiler to reveal that he eventually relents (after all, the title demands that we get more big fat nuptials to sit through) -- cue the Greek-language cover of Billy Idol's "White Wedding." Witnessing the pair's marital ups and downs inspires Toula and Ian to try and rekindle the spark in their own marriage, and Paris's story segues into teen drama over who's going to ask whom to go to the prom, giving the film the excuse to end with not just one, but two glitzy events.

Vardalos's script is packed with incident without ever creating any real stakes. There's never any doubt that these minor conflicts will be sorted out over the course of a brisk 90 minutes. Still, much of the original film's success came from the performances -- they create a pretty convincing family dynamic -- and with the entire cast returning, the ensemble falls back easily into their roles. There's still a nice chemistry within the group, even if they don't all get a lot to do.

The film does fall into a few of the pitfalls of this type of marriage-centric romantic-comedy; Toula's sense of self is tied entirely to her identity as a wife and mother. Her wisecracking Aunt Voula (played by the inestimable Andrea Martin) reminds her when giving her a marital pep talk, "You were a girlfriend before you were a mother," as though those are the only roles that matter in a woman's life. It's a somewhat troubling message, but in keeping with the emphasis on familial connection above all else. And though the film's climax pays lip service toward addressing this when Maria at one point laments that she could have been something other than simply a wife, just as quickly the film settles for restoring the status quo as she comes to the conclusion that her life's adventure was found in making a family.

"My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" is exactly the movie you expect (and probably hope) it to be: the type of pleasant, inoffensive film you can take your extended family to, and most everyone will leave happy. In fact, it's already your grandmother's favorite movie of the year (it's a bit perplexing it didn't open closer to Mother's Day). It's a lively, crowd-pleasing comedy that offers perfect counterprogramming for those with little interest in watching DC's clashing superhero titans demolish an entire city.

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