Nia Vardalos casts herself across from her My Big Fat Greek Wedding love interest James Corbett, in an attempt to rekindle the magic that was the unlikely Big Fat phenomenon. As star, writer, and director, the weight of the film falls onto her shoulders and thankfully she has enough carry to drag a rather sparse plot from beginning to end with a some genuine laughs.
Vardalos plays the owner of a flower shop who lives by a five-date rule for all men so that she can avoid relationships, and thereby any heartbreak. She subscribes to this theory on the basis that she believes she is happier and has the real answers until she has a meet-cute with the hunky owner of a developing Papas bar on her block played by Corbett. She is chock full of opinion and ideas and he is a delightful blank slate who is nothing but confused shrugs towards any notion of romance.
This odd romance lasts the duration of the 5 dates (maybe more?) which is stretched out over the course of a year. This is totally unbelievable, even for as odd a film as this, and clearly only used for the sake of bookending it with Valentine’s Day (gotta make the film’s title earn its keep). I just can’t imagine characters spending that many months in a row pining for each other without little action or simply moving on. Then again, this story is not meant to be an Earthy examination of modern dating. No, this is a chunk of 90 minutes meant to be filled with a girl who is all smiles, her charming giggly gay friends, her charming slacker friends, her charming curmudgeon customers and the charming lad who charms her charms…and laughs detached from anything else other than just being charming little laughs.
The third act of the film sees our hero’s determined stance on dating be shaken not just by her feelings of love, but by her realization that her fears of commitment stems from her disdain towards the fact that her father had an affair on her mother, which ended their marriage and jaded her and her mother for a long time. The serious mood of this portion of the film is completely out of place with the flightiness of the preceding action but is still well-played enough that one doesn’t write it off as token trouble designed to setup the joyful reunion at the end (oh please, that’s how rom-coms work, I’m not spoiling anything).
As mentioned before, there certainly are laughs. Having some fun in this film is not a problem as Vandalos knows enough about comedy to make things entertaining. I suggest opening a bottle of wine with your sweetie to make the laughs even funnier as the film progresses.
If I were to go after anything it’d be the aesthetics of the film. The score is tacky and makes it feel like a lamer film than it is, and the sets, more often than not, feel like sound-stage sets. I could not help but be aware that neither the sounds or visuals were natural and I found it disconnected me from the film. I had the same feeling with the cardboard looking staleness of Zac and Miri make a Porno, another slightly offbeat rom-com that would have been helped by better sets and sound. Both Zac and Miri and this film have unnatural dialogue and performances, which could work if the jokes are good, but lose steam if you feel like you’re looking at the stage of a high school play. The ironic thing is it was actually shot on location. Perhaps this should be a lesson in being less static when shooting your set or a jab at the troublesome lighting that makes everything all too bright (something I will touch on again in a couple of paragraphs from now).
Widescreen 1.85:1. The picture quality is quite disappointing. This film should not have had so small a budget that it could not look cleaner on DVD, but here we are. Some shots are clear and others look bleached out, as standing in direct sunlight at all times.
Dolby Digital 5.1. A good mix in all speakers. Well-balanced in what it needs to deliver. Everything okey-dokey on his front.
Subtitles in English and Spanish.
Commentary by Nia Vandalos and the films producers: Right off the bat these folks explain the budget of the film, which was shoe-string and meant much of the cast is friends who were around Brooklyn at the time and other such endeering struggles they had to face. I was actually interested in the stories and self-praise they had to tell, which can be rare in commentary tracks.
Compared to any rom-com of recent memory that stars the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Hugh Grant, Sandra Bullock and/or Matthew McConoughey, this is above par. The heartfelt moments feel out of place amongst the rabble of cartoonish, often one-dimensional characters that exists simply for the sake of being quirky in a quirky world, and the self-awareness of the dialogue runs closer to that Juno level of “trying-to-hard,” as quirk and self-awareness need a greater wit, charm and even discipline to be fully acceptable (the presence of a couple 30 Rock actors reminds me of how that show is a fine example of this sort of writing working well).