My Life in Ruins

Cinema review for Nov. 5: My Big Fat Greek Vacation
My Life in Ruins
Rating:

Directed by Donald Petrie. Starring Nia Vardalos, Richard Dreyfuss, Alexis Georgoulis, Alistair McGowan, Harland Williams, Rachel Dratch, Caroline Goodall, Ian Ogilvy, Sophie Stuckey, María Botto, María Adánez, Brian Palermo, Jareb Dauplaise, Simon Gleeson, Natalie O’Donnell, Sheila Bernette, Ralph Nossek, Bernice Stegers, Rita Wilson. Written by Mike Reiss.

Nia Vardalos wrote and starred in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a broad parade of caricatures that became one of the more anomalous box office successes in recent memory. Her career since the 2002 film has failed to take off; the TV spin-off My Big Fat Greek Life lasted a mere seven episodes, and Vardalos has had a lone cinematic credit since, the Some Like It Hot-influenced dud Connie and Carla.

Her latest film, My Life in Ruins, isn´t going to help. The movie is directed by Donald Petrie, a veteran of broad comedy (Grumpy Old Men, Miss Congeniality), and it´s about as good as Greek Wedding. Which is to say, it´s pretty awful; it´s another similarly-themed parade of obnoxious stereotypes that wears out its welcome quickly.

Vardalos stars as Georgia, an unhappy half-Greek tour guide living in Greece who takes rotten tourists on four-day tours of the country. You know, to the Parthenon, the Acropolis, and all those other boring sites (not my opinion, but it seems to be the film´s.) This was, apparently, the first Hollywood film to be allowed to film at the Acropolis in over 50 years; they couldn´t have taken less advantage of it.

Within ten minutes, the film introduces us to its gross stereotyping and broad characterization. We have drunk Australians, pretentious Brits, male-chasing Spanish divorcees, dumb Americans, and a fat American. There´s also a senile, feeble elderly couple, a spoiled little rich girl, and a representative from IHOP, the International House of Pancakes, who goes on and on about pancakes and waffles and maple syrup. Worst of all is the portrayal of Greeks: lazy, hairy, apathetic. Zorba the Greek, with Anthony Quinn, plays in the background of some scenes, but these people don´t exactly have his lust for life.

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These aren´t quick jabs at side characters. These are the main characters who will fill the screen throughout the next 90 minutes. They´re obnoxious tourists who Georgia is taking on a bus tour of Greece, and they´re complaining all the way. The script dictates that we come to care about them, which is nigh impossible; watching these ugly stereotypes crowd the screen couldn´t be a more unpleasant. I was reminded in some scenes of Jacques Tati´s infinitely superior Playtime, which took a not dissimilar view of tourists; certain stereotypes can, in fact, hold some truth. But that film took a road of quiet observation; this one is as loud and obnoxious as its characters.

But they can´t all be that bad. No, there´s a nicely detailed character named Irv, played by Richard Dreyfuss, who is travelling for the first time since his wife passed away. He´s the comedian of the group, and dispenses some wisdom too. He´s the kind of character you may not mind being around, and he´s played nicely by the reliable Dreyfuss. I only wonder what he´s doing in this movie.

There´s a plot here too, I think. It involves Georgia competing against her colleague Nico, who gets all the nice Canadian tourists. There´s also a romance between Georgia and her bus driver. His name is Poupi (pronounced Poopy, and pronounced often throughout the film). His last name is Kakas. His nephew´s name is Doudi. If that´s your kind of humor, check out My Life in Ruins. You shouldn´t be disappointed by the rest of the film.

***

Also opening: the Czech comedy Pamětnice (showtimes), from director Vlado Štancel. Screening in Czech.

And: be sure to check out this year’s Palace Film Festival at Palace Cinemas Slovanský dům through the next week. Along with an overview of the top fims of 2009, the fest features retrospectives of directors Danny Boyle, Darren Aronofsky, Emir Kustirica, and famed bad movie director Edward D. Wood Jr.


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