Directed by: Joel Zwick
Written by:Nia Vardalos
Starring: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine, Lainie Kazan, Andrea Martin, Joey Fatone
Released: October 24, 2002
Grade: A

When it comes to the crunch, the success of a low-profile independent film hinges on word-of-mouth.  Positive word-of-mouth will only come from a great screenplay.  Regular commercial releases will almost always make money because of advertising and exposure.  This comes from casting big stars and/or showing cool special effects.  Actors and directors do the talk-show circuit, talk about how bloody awesome their film is and let TV ads, posters and billboards do the rest.

Basically, a lot of really crap blockbusters make more money than they should and a lot of super independent flicks make no money at all.  It’s an injustice that will never be in balance but like something out of Cinderella, every now and again, a little indy gem will light up the box-office.

This small film had an even smaller beginning.  Drawing from her own experiences as a Greek girl growing up in the States, Nia Vardalos wrote and performed in a one-woman stage show in Los Angeles.  Vardalos had also written a screenplay but doubted any studio would be interested in producing it.  Actress Rita Wilson saw the show and was so impressed, she insisted her husband, Tom Hanks, take the time to see it too.  Hanks loved it and with help from Gold Circle Films and HBO, put up $5m to finance the project.

Despite being a complete no-name, Vardalos was allowed to star in the film’s leading role.  As Hanks himself said, it “brings a huge amount of integrity to the piece, because it’s Nia’s version of her own life and her own experience.  I think that shows through on the screen and people recognize it.”  As her husband-to-be in the film, another relative unknown, John Corbett, was cast.  He loved the script and in a hotel restaurant in Toronto was telling a friend how good it was.  By sheer coincidence, Vardalos was sitting at a nearby table, overheard the conversation and cast Corbett right there on the spot.

So the film was completed and back in April, My Big Fat Greek Wedding opened on 108 screens across America and made a modest $597,362 to squeeze into 20th place on the charts.  The Scorpion King led the box-office that week with $36,075,875 on 3,444 screens.  With a healthy start, it seemed this risky venture might just manage a positive return.

It is now late September.  My Big Fat Greek Wedding has been 2nd on the box-office chart for three consecutive weeks and has now grossed a total of $110,443,668.  The film is showing no signs of slowing down and with Oscar season set to begin, the hype is starting to build for this “little film that could”.

It’s an elegantly simple tale about a 30-year-old Greek girl, Fotoula (Vardalos) who despite growing up in America, still lives a very Grecian life.  All her family (and 27 cousins) want is for her to get married to a Greek guy, have some Greek children, and cook lots of Greek food.  The plan goes awry when she meets the straight-shooting Ian Miller (Corbett) and her family are horrified that she will marry outside her race and religion.  But nothing will stop this romance and both Fotoula’s and Ian’s families will be forced to change their ways to accommodate this perfect couple...

The jokes are sharp and you see the honesty in the screenplay which appreciates Grecian culture in a lighthearted fashion.  The film reminded me of the Australian flick Looking For Alibrandi with its inter-cultural themes.  Each cast member is unique and well individualised but making the most of some fantastic lines is Nia’s overbearing father played by Gus Portokalos.

With a screenplay lacking in clichés and featuring a perfect balance of laughter and sentimentality, it’s no surprise this film is schmoozing audiences.  I love surprises and here’s a case where the ultimate underdog has taken the top prize.