#ROM-COMMENTARY is a series of posts exploring romantic comedy films and delving into some of the mechanisms that help make the genre so enjoyable to me. I’m a firm believer that there’s something to learn in all aspects of life, so join me on my journey exploring these so-called ‘girly movies’ as I strive to wind their lessons into my writing.
“You better get married soon. You starting to look… old.”
My Dad’s been saying that to me since I was fifteen. ‘Cause nice Greek girls are supposed to do three things in life: marry Greek boys, make Greek babies, and feed everyone until the day we die.
The opening lines of My Big Fat Greek Wedding – a romantic comedy staple – set the scene immaculately for the entire film. We meet Costa Portokalos, a proud Greek immigrant who has made a successful life for his family in Chicago. He’s driving a car in a rainstorm at the crack of dawn, taking his daughter Toula to open their family restaurant.
Within the first fifteen minutes of the movie, it becomes very obvious that Toula has no life outside of her family and is making no progression towards the traditional goals that they expect of her. At 30 years old, she’s working in the family restaurant and living at home, and has a dream of working with computers – but is stifled by her family’s lack of support for anything outside of their norm.
When Ian Miller – high-school English teacher – enters the restaurant and has a brief encounter with socially awkward Toula, she becomes determined to make some changes. No longer satisfied with being a self-described ‘frump girl’, she enlists her mother’s help to get permission from her father to attend local night school courses in computing. Her confidence grows and she finally has room to breathe. She feels empowered to start taking more pride in her appearance, and feeling a greater sense of self-worth.
This all culminates in Toula leaving her family restaurant and taking ownership of a position working in her aunt and uncle’s travel agency. She is clearly enlivened by the freedom she feels in being her own boss – something which catches Ian Miller’s eye when he happens to walk past the travel agency one day on the fly.
The pair embark upon a cute budding romance. Clearly infatuated with each other, Toula keeps her dating life a secret from her ‘big, loud’ and interfering family until she realises she has real feelings for Ian and confesses to him that her family will never accept her being romantically involved with a non-Greek and she doesn’t see how it can work. Ian convinces her to spend some time with him.
Inevitably, her family find out and they’re definitely not pleased. Ian hasn’t done anything by their book in the way he has courted Toula. Ian’s parents are stodgy, rich, and ignorant – while they aren’t rude to Toula, it’s very clear that the pair are from entirely different worlds. Ian is from a legacy of lawyers in his family, and chose instead to go into education. This mirrors Toula’s fight to be more than a housewife and mother, as she chose to explore further education.
Ian proposes to Toula and she accepts. Her family (mainly her father) is so distraught and unsupportive that she begs Ian to elope with her. But he remains steadfast in that he loves her and will do ‘whatever it takes’ to get her family to accept him.
The juxtaposition of the two families really is a standout for me, and helps to highlight the bridge of cultural and social gaps that Ian and Toula have to overcome. They even refer to the families as ‘apples and oranges’ in a very clever way through the script, which shows that towards the end there is a good measure of acceptance that has grown on both sides.
Honestly, I would have liked to see more conflict between the couple themselves. Sure, overcoming family hurdles is difficult and can often seem impossible. However, Ian sure does jump through a lot of hoops for Toula and never questions any of it. They judge him for not being Greek, for being a vegetarian, for how he looks. He instantly caves to each of their desires as far as marrying Toula goes, and while it seems very romantic of him to do so on the surface I would have liked to see him have a few doubts about it all and Toula have to fight her family a little harder on a compromise rather than simply asking the man she loves to conform.
What’s the norm?
The classic Romeo-and-Juliet style story of lovers from different backgrounds who just shouldn’t be together – but who can’t resist each other – works well and is represented in a way that modernises the trope and adapts it to a contemporary audience.
What challenges the status quo?
I think that the cultural representation of Greek people is more than slightly over the top. I understand that they chose to present this representation for more juxtaposition in the family dynamics, but it’s good to see that they also kept a strong faith for the gender roles and expectations of this kind of family unit in conjunction with amplifying everything else. It would have been easy to let that all slide in favour of being politically correct.
Why I love it
An adorkable girl who finds herself, and through that, finds the man she never knew she was waiting for. A boisterous family who is nosy, full-on, but also bursting with love to give. A man who will do quite literally anything for the woman he loves, because he saw her for who she was and not as ‘frump girl’. What’s not to love about a film that makes you smile from start to finish, and leaves me hunkering for lamb on a spit?
What did I learn?
Subtext is absolutely ripe throughout this movie, and is delivered cleverly and with great comedic timing. From the iconic opening lines all the way through to the end, the writers have constructed clever undertones that speak to acceptance, love, and most of all wanting the best for your loved ones even though you might not always know exactly what that means for them.
Want more? Check out my first ever Rom-Commentary on the film Paperback Hero at my personal blog.
Louisa likes Pina Coladas and gettin’ caught in the rain. She lives in Mandurah, Western Australia, works in communications and PR by daylight, and drinks more coffee than is good for her. When she’s not writing or researching projects, Louisa enjoys spending time with her family, friends, and her Great Dane, Harriet. Hobbies include playing video games, watching copious amounts of tv, and various craft-related initiatives.
She strongly believes that the truth is still out there.