My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 review: “Draws you back in with open arms”

How do you follow a record-breaking hit? Here's a tip from Nia Vardalos: take your time – and don't try too hard

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★★★

How about this for pressure: 14 years after My Big Fat Greek Wedding hit cinemas, it remains the highest-grossing romantic comedy in Hollywood film history. No wonder Nia Vardalos has taken so long to deliver the sequel, perhaps finally resigned to the idea that she can never top that. Indeed, from the perfunctory title to its party-hard finale, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 doesn’t try too hard, but it still draws you back in with open arms and the same big heart.

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Vardalos keeps it real as the only credited scriptwriter and she doesn’t mind baring her crow’s feet and an unruly mop of salt ’n’ pepper hair as Toula Portokalos, now anxious mother to 17-year-old Paris (Elena Kampouris in moody black eyeshadow) and back working at her own parents’ restaurant after the internet sank her travel agency. John Corbett is insouciant as ever playing hubby Ian – and he needs to be, having married into a family that lives side-by-side on the same street and where he has to be on standby at nights to haul his naked, fat father-in-law out of the bath. 

Michael Constantine may be pushing 90 but he still has the fire in his belly as grouchy patriarch Gus Portokalos, and just as much cheek, too, warning Paris that she’s “getting old” and needs to find herself “a nice Greek boy”. Still, the best lines, as before, go to Auntie Voula (Andrea Martin with her impish pout), who coolly instructs Toula to “shave everything” when it becomes apparent that she’s been too busy mothering Paris to tend to Ian’s needs.

The dilemmas Toula finds herself in all feel familiar – including her reluctance to let Paris leave Chicago for NYU – but Vardalos is tapping universal chords the way she did with the first film, when movie-goers from all backgrounds swore their families were just the same. Vardalos endears herself by being just as willing to send herself up, always trying to play it cool in a family of hotheads and invariably winding up in a cold sweat.

Apart from having to face empty-nest syndrome, the title promises another excuse to smash some plates (although, in fact, this is the one stereotype Vardalos doesn’t tick off) and it’s Gus who grudgingly proposes to Toula’s mother (Lainie Kazan, also reprising her role) when a clerical error reveals that their marriage of 50 years isn’t legally binding.

Plans for another big fat Greek wedding get underway and soon descend into brightly coloured chaos with British director Kirk Jones (Waking Ned, Nanny McPhee) painting the comedy in broad strokes – and Gus’s garage in blue and white. While the effect is sometimes overbearing, in a sense, that’s the point and there are chuckles to be had watching Toula trying not to rise to the bait.

As before, Vardalos is the grounding force in a hurricane of extreme silliness, occasionally drawing out pointed observations about the suffocating dynamics of a close-knit family. A subplot that shows the softer side of one of her muscle-head cousins (Joey Fatone and Louis Mandylor) feels like an afterthought and, in general, the characters are defined by the jokes rather than the other way around. Still it’s hard not to like the Portokalos family for refusing to tone it down.

There are small roles, too, for producer Rita Wilson (the Greek wife of executive producer Tom Hanks) and the twinkly eyed John Stamos as a well-to-do Greek couple, but there’s no stealing the Portokalos’s thunder. There is strength in numbers, and the way they pull together in a heartbeat makes them a winning team. Even before the nuptials come around, the film has a celebratory feel and pulls at you like a relentless cousin dragging you to the dance floor, insisting you enjoy yourself.

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My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is released in cinemas on Friday 25 March