Despite the more than seven years between My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 and the latest entry, it’s as though no time has passed at all when you step inside the world of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3. This is how it is constructed—the second entry ended with Paris (Elena Kampouris) being dropped off at college, and in this one, she’s just finished her freshman year. However, it is true that, despite a rapidly changing industry that has practically elbowed out rom-coms and mid-budget crowd pleasers entirely, we still live in a world where a sitcom-scale story with a cast of characters who wait patiently to do their bits, fade into the background, and then do their bits again can make it to the big screen. There’s something not exactly refreshing but relaxing about visiting a place where the stakes are so low that the only real conflict is protagonist Toula (Greek Wedding screenwriter and now-director Nia Vardalos) versus off-the-grid-ness, as she struggles to find the now-geriatric (and always Greek) men her now-dead father grew up with because she promised him she’d give them his journal. Edith Hamilton, Vardalos ain’t.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 is simply meant to be escapist entertainment. On that front, it succeeds more than it fails—I saw it in a full theater whose crowd consisted of both critics and non-critics, and it kind of killed? As the movie follows the mecca to Greece taken by Toula and her family, Vardalos’ dialogue can be extremely stiff (“That was epic!” her character says at one point; “You failed? We trusted you to go to NYU and you blew it!” her character’s husband, Ian, played by John Corbett, scolds Paris), but the overall tone of gentle wackiness is routinely endearing. This is the kind of movie that repeatedly—and I mean, at least five times—uses farm animals like goats and an extremely spirited rooster as segues between scenes. (“Cock-a-doodle-doo!” Hahaha!) It’s the kind of movie where Toula’s Windex-loving brother Nick (Louis Mandylor) takes an outdoor shower in the village his family is staying in, realizes too late that his only option is cold water, screams, the scream echoes through the Greek countryside, and then Vardalos cuts to a goat bleating. Cute stuff like that.
Sometimes too cute. Andrea Martin’s Aunt Voula is whatever the septuagenarian equivalent of precocious is. “Aunt Voula, I will be your favorite,” is how she introduces herself to Victory (Melina Kotselou), the mayor of the village the family is visiting and also a distant relative. A few minutes later, after Voula tells the queer-coded Victory that she, too, wears boys and girls clothes depending on the day, Victory exclaims, “I like you!” “Everybody does!” Aunt Voula beams. The audience filled in the laugh track.
The cast of characters is further padded out by locals like Alexandra (Anthi Andreopoulou), a crotchety, initially unwelcoming woman who screams at people as a matter of course and gets the best line in the movie. In another scene, she feeds chickens and tells Ian to pick out one to eat. “I’m a vegetarian,” he explains. “No!” is her only response. Alexandra’s son Peter (Alexis Georgoulis) follows the family shadily when they first arrive; Toula catches glimpses of him and deems him handsome, only to discover that he’s her half-brother. Estranged-half-sibling attraction is about as close as this movie gets to edgy.
There is, eventually, a wedding between very minor characters. There is Joey Fatone in a side plot as Cousin Angelo with Cousin Nikki (Gia Carides). There is olive oil-making. There’s an extended cameo by Lainie Kazan as Toula’s mother who now has dementia, which is briefly a bummer before the movie picks back up its gentle hijinks. It’s all so forgettable, but in a friendly way, as if it simply doesn’t want to burden you. There’s also a knock-out scene that takes place on a nude beach, where Paris goes from unwitting to scandalized to determined to liberated to horrified—I won’t give away the reason, but it’s good—that’s directed perfectly. Only a curmudgeon could deny these movies their heart, but the glimpses of craft are what truly surprises.
But! The thing is that it’s not 2002 (when the runaway-successful first movie was released) or 2016 anymore, as much as Wedding 3 would like to pretend it is, and it feels weird to watch a movie populated only by white people (albeit kooky ethnic ones!), save a servant role. When the family packs in the plane for Greece at the beginning of the movie, their flight attendant is a frazzled but soft-spoken Black male-presenting flight attendant to whom Voula says, “I’m in charge, you report to me.” She’s just being Voula, but it plays as a white woman exercising domination on a Black man, shifting the mood from nostalgic to woefully stuck in the past. It wasn’t enough to ruin all the fun for me, but I couldn’t hold it against anyone if it did for them.