There’s a reason romantic comedies don’t have sequels. The entire point is the phrase “happily ever after” – no one wants to get into the nitty gritty of real life. In fact, only a handful of films have even dared to try it, most recently Father of the Bride (iffy) and the Before Trilogy (iffier). Most recently, however, Nia Vardalos has begun creating sequels to her bombshell 2002 debut, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. And while the second film in the series had enough heart to get by (barely), her third outing in the series is textbook proof that no one needs to hear the epilogue to a great love story.
Since we last checked in with the Portokalos family, it has been a season of loss. Not only has family patriarch Gus passed away, but mother Maria (Lanie Kazan) is suffering from the early stages of dementia. To honor Gus’ dying wishes, the family capable of travel – including Toula (Vardalos), her husband Ian (John Corbett), daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris), brother Nick (Louis Mandylor), and nosy Aunt Voula (Andrea Martin) – all take a trip to Greece to visit his childhood village for a special reunion. During the trip, secrets will be uncovered, personal fears will be confronted, and family bonds will be strengthened.
What constantly undercuts any semblance of growth or entertainment in the third Greek outing is the perpetual lack of honesty. The reason the first film was a massive blockbuster and Oscar-nominated success was how truthful and specific it was to Vardalos’ voice and journey. While we may not all have had a father who treated everything with Windex, we could certainly relate to the eccentricities of a big, loud, and lovably overbearing immigrant family.
However, that honesty is consistently lacking throughout this new film, in a way even the second film never was (at least Greek 2 had something interesting to say about married couples in a rut). Here, every joke, every story beat, and every characterization is straight out of a sitcom – and a bad one, one that would even be cancelled by CBS a year into the run. 90% of the jokes involve family members wandering around in the nude. A love interest for daughter Paris laments not getting the girl because he’s a nerd, despite literally being an Abercrombie model (Elias Kacavas, passable). At one point, the family all runs into the ocean fully clothed. There’s no reason for this. They just…do it. And it’s never addressed again.
Even the efforts to provide the story drama feel forced. The shenanigans that bring the family on their Grecian odyssey is completely unbelievable. The big emotional center of the film centers on a twist that is completely rushed, despite having shocking and seismic ramifications for the family and their dynamic. And attempts to comment on the modern-day European landscape are often presented with a wild amount of whimsy. After all, why focus on the Ukrainian refugees randomly introduced when you can immediately just cut to food porn?
It’s not like the film doesn’t have the occasional glimpse of honesty. There are sweet flashbacks to Gus’ childhood playing in his village square that offer a glimpse at a father’s unspoken past. And there are multiple sequences involving realistic, sobering conversations between siblings realizing they are losing both parents that both hit home and offer a glimpse at actual human emotion. But lest you think the film will accomplish anything deep or meaningful here, these sequences are often followed by a sheep wandering into the one-room house they all share together.
Perhaps the greatest disappointment is the way the actors all phone in their work. Vardalos and Corbett still have chemistry as the series’ driving force, but their stories here just aren’t interesting enough to keep us invested. Kampouris seems contractually obligated to be here, and clearly spends most of her time daydreaming about her time on Broadway. And newcomer Melina Kotselou is fairly bad in her role, but in her defense, I’m not sure any actor could have made “non-conforming oddball Gen-Z mayor” anything but a disaster.
With Kazan sidelined and Michael Constantine tragically deceased, the role of resident elder in the family falls to Andrea Martin, whom I’m shocked to say is way too present in this film. Still, at least she gets to deliver the film’s most daring and humorous line to her great-niece: “Deciding to be ‘just friends’ is what you say after you find out that you’re cousins.” Strangely, the only performance that stands out belongs to Mandylor as Toula’s gross older brother Nick. He’s not the strongest actor, but he’s at least given something interesting enough in this story to milk for some pathos (Greek word!)
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 is a film that feels forced from beginning to end. It shouldn’t be that surprising – there’s only so many relatives you can conceivably have a big fat wedding for. But still, it’s disappointing. There is no honesty in this film, and therefore nothing to care about. The people we fell in love with are reduced to cartoon characters, lacking a heart, soul, or brain. Is it harmless? Sure. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting to watch a creative voice lose that creativity, or performers we love phone in their work. Perhaps our only hope is to divorce ourselves from this series – maybe then the artists will opt for something fresh.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 is now playing exclusively in theaters