Dir. Donald Petrie, US/Spain, 95 mins
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Nia Vardalos
Review by Carol Allen
There are some obvious similarities here with the 2002 hit film "My Big Fat Greek Wedding". Both films are about Greek culture, both feature Vardalos in the starring role and both have the enthusiastic support of fellow actors Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson as executive producers.
But rather than being overwhelmed with family and tradition, as her character was in "Wedding", Vardalos here plays a character, who is culturally very American and out of touch with her Greek roots, which she finds again in the course of the film. Georgia is a Greek American working as a tourist guide in Athens, taking groups of foreign holidaymakers on bus tours of the country and showing them the sights. She is though disenchanted with the work because her clients don't share her passion for ancient Greek history and artifacts. Unlike Toula in "Wedding" however, who was endearing and charming, Georgia is a very irritating and not very likable character. She's a humourless, self involved control freak and not therefore ideal material for the heroine of a romantic comedy. That would however be workable, if the film itself was funny but this is one of those sad movies where you can see what the joke's intended to be but it just doesn't make you laugh. Which gives an unintentional irony to the fact that Georgia is always being told by people "You're not funny. Stop trying."
The actors playing members of her group struggle to breath life into a collection of national stereotypes and sometimes rather insulting caricatures, particularly in the film's depiction of elderly people as predominately dim and daft. There's also Alistair McGowan looking a bit out of place in the somewhat superfluous role of a flashy and crass rival tourist guide. Georgia's romantic interest is Poupi (Alexis Georgoulis), the hirsute driver of her bus, whom she initially despises. We can see the cliché coming long before she does, in that obviously he's going to be gorgeous when he shaves off that bushy beard and will be the one to bring her back to the true (stereotypical) womanliness of her Greek heritage.
There are however a few redeeming features in the film, most notably Dreyfuss as Irv, an elderly widowe, who hides his sadness behind a wisecracking facade and who becomes Georgia's friend. He brings humanity and humour to his role, makes the character likeable and sympathetic and some of his jokes are actually funny. Veteran music hall artist Sheila Bernette as an elderly English kleptomaniac also manages to raise a few smiles. And there is of course the gorgeous Greek scenery to provide a bit of a diversion and an attractive backdrop.
So if you want a bit of undemanding escapism and a cheap pseudo holiday, this movie could while away a Saturday night. On the other hand, to serve the same purpose you might prefer to stay home and get "Mama Mia" out on DVD.