Ever been invited to a family reunion you had no desire to attend? You may be tired of seeing your relatives and listening to their familiar routines, which can be downright annoying at times. But then you force yourself to go and you find that you have a good time after all, at least for a little while.
That’s roughly the experience of seeing My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3, the latest chapter in the saga of the eccentric Portokalas family previously seen in the wildly popular 2002 original and its much less successful 2016 sequel (the less said about the short-lived 2003 sitcom spin-off My Big Fat Greek Life, the better). If you enjoyed spending time with Nia Vardalos’ Toula and the rest of her extended clan, you’ll probably have a good time again, even if the characters and jokes are wearing thin with repetition.
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And as a special treat, you’ll get to hang out with them in Greece, which only makes you wonder why they didn’t get there sooner. After Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall went to Italy in The Equalizer 3, this is the second time in as many weeks that a third installment in a popular franchise has been set in a beautiful foreign locale. Forget “revenge travel”; the new hot trend is “revenge location filming.”
This installment pays loving tribute to the Portokalos family patriarch Gus, played by the late Michael Constantine, whose character figures prominently in the storyline anyway. His relatives don’t head to Greece merely for a family vacation, but also to fulfill one of his dying wishes that his handwritten journal documenting his life be given to his friends with whom he grew up. Of course, they could have sent it via Fed Ex, but then you wouldn’t have a sequel.
The mission turns out not to be easy, because the village from which Gus hails is now nearly devoid of citizens, although it does have a very enthusiastic young mayor, Victory (Melina Kotselou), who warmly greets Toula and her clan. Soon after they arrive, they jump into the sea fully clothed, because apparently when you go to Greece you immediately lose control of your faculties.
The vacationers include Toula and her famously non-Greek husband Ian (John Corbett, on a roll as a middle-aged hunk in this and And Just Like That), their college-age daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris), Toula’s brother Nick (Louis Mandylor), Aunt Voula (Andrea Martin, the series’ MVP, getting laughs effortlessly), Aunt Frieda (Maria Vacratsis) and Paris’ ex-boyfriend Aristotle (Elias Kacavas), whom the mischievous Voula has invited to try to get the young couple back together. Staying home are matriarch Maria (Lainie Kazan), now suffering — but not too badly — from dementia, and cousins Nikki (Gia Carides) and Angelo (Joey Fatone), although the latter eventually make their way to the island as well.
The film serves as a virtual travelogue of the country, from bustling Athens to remote mountaintop villages to the gorgeous islands to crowded dance clubs. Vardalos, who scripted and also directs for the first time in the series, has come up with some minor plot elements to accompany the beautiful scenery, including the revelation of a heretofore unknown family relative and a romance between a Syrian refugee (Stephanie Nur) and a young Greek man whose father strongly disapproves. But since this is a comedy and not a hard-hitting drama about Greece’s immigration crisis, the conflict is quickly resolved and everyone gets along swimmingly. And spoiler alert: There’s another wedding, although this one is not merely Greek but Greek/Syrian.
Mostly, the film delivers a series of throwaway gags that quickly grow tiresome, such as Nick’s constant habit of disgustingly grooming himself in front of the others (Mandylor deserves points for lack of vanity). Other would-be comic highlights involve the visitors repeatedly being offered alcohol, with Toula overdoing it and giggling uncontrollably, and Nikki and Angelo scouring the islands searching for Gus’ old friends. Let’s just say that the hoary jokes will go over much better if you’ve primed yourself with Ouzo.
Still, it’s hard to be too curmudgeonly about the film and these lovable characters, all of whom mean well and have their endearing traits. There’s a genuine sweetness at the core of the series that goes a long way toward compensating for its lack of comic sophistication, and Vardalos is such a warm screen presence that it’s a pleasure to spend time with her. Although maybe next time she can leave some of the family at home.
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