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Big Fat Greek Nightmare

Nia Vardalos' latest, My Life in Ruins, makes me want to sob

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What we have here is a big fat crying shame. I like Nia Vardalos. I like how her My Big Fat Greek Wedding became a surprise hit a few years back by refusing to give in to the conventional Hollywood wisdom, namely that women who are larger than a size two don't exist and certainly wouldn't be worthy of the attention of a man as sexy as John Corbett or interested in love and romance and sex and having a fun and exciting life even if they did exist.

So it pains me to say that this, My Life in Ruins is a steaming pile of stereotypes and sitcomery, a pathetic excuse for a comedy, a romance, and a movie. If you chanced to be accursed enough to have caught even a single episode of the TV spinoff from Wedding, the unimaginatively dubbed My Big Fat Greek Life, then you already have a general idea of what Ruins looks like: it's the ruined version of what could have been a simple but charming movie.

Ruins is populated by supposed adults who behave as if they are moronic children. It's obvious and banal, its idea of humor is embarrassing, and it's overseen by the tediously typical misogynistic concept that any woman who's dissatisfied with her life simply needs to get laid. You know, because all her problems will magically disappear if she's getting properly fucked on a regular basis.

Ruins thinks it's so naughty, with its heroine in Vardalos' uptight Georgia, who just needs to learn how to cut loose and gets a few lessons in how to do that. But what I see is a story written by a man who sees women only as Hollywood has sold them to him. I might have expected better from screenwriter Mike Reiss — who has contributed to such subversive TV series as The Simpsons, The Critic, It's Garry Shandling's Show, and Sledge Hammer! — so who knows where he came up with this rude, annoying American trying to find herself in Greece.

The joke is supposed to be, you see, that she's the one who sees the people on the tour groups she leads as rude and annoying, except that, as the script dictates and as director Donald Petrie portrays it, the group of Looney Tunes Georgia finds herself saddled with on this latest five-day tour really are proudly dumb, proudly ignorant, and proudly indulgent of the worst stereotypes of wherever they're from: the Americans are obnoxious, the Australians are rowdy drinkers, the Brits are snobbish, etc. The film deploys ethnic and nationalistic pigeonholing because it thinks we'll be amused by it.

If Georgia really were the brainy, knowledgeable academic she's supposed to be, she'd know that there really are tour groups that specialize in precisely the kind of intellectual tourism she wants to practice, to the consternation of the mental midgets she's squiring, who don't want to hear about ancient gods and history and architecture and just want to go to the beach and shop. (One wonders why they're on this tour at all.) But then there'd be no "funny" movie, and no quick and easy resolution to Georgia's ennui: there'd be a subversive, thinky movie instead, and maybe Georgia would fall for the shy professorial type rather than the...

Well, I won't "ruin" it for you, in case you haven't already seen the trailer, which as good as tells you the whole movie. But know this: director Petrie is sort of a Ghost of Bad Romantic Comedies Past — he is responsible for such reprehensibleness as Miss Congeniality (smart, sensible FBI agent Sandra Bullock is forced to go undercover at a beauty pageant, and discovers the real meaning of womanhood lies in waxing and blowing every dollar you have on clothes and makeup) and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, which may be the most anti-woman, anti-man, anti-human movie ever made. And he has not redeemed himself here.

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