My Life In Ruins In Review
A Definite Rental
Yesterday afternoon, I attended a showing of the new Nia Vardalos movie, My Life In Ruins. Having seen and adored her first movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I secretly hoped that this movie would fill me with the same emotions. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Still, it wasn’t half bad.
Set in Greece, the story follows Georgia (Nia Vardalos), a frustrated Greek American tour guide who left the United States to teach History at a local Greek college just as the department was laying off professors. As she is the least popular tour guide (She educates the tourists about the attractions instead of allowing them to lounge around, buy souvenirs and have fun.) at a local agency, she is given all of the worst customers (uneducated Americans, old people who can’t move, sarcastic and self-absorbed men, Australians who speak in slang and are constantly drunk, etc.). On what she believes to be her last tour, she ends up befriending a recent widower named Irv (Richard Dreyfuss) who helps her put her life into perspective. Will she ever teach again? More importantly, will she ever find love? The suspense!
As you might expect (or suspect from my sarcasm), the story is quite predictable. Plus, the coming attractions are so telling that there are no surprises. We know going in that Georgia will fall in love and have her views of Greece change dramatically. What we don’t know is if Vardalos has enough charm left in her as an actress to pull it off. Though it’s a struggle, she does. Unlike her character in Greek Wedding, Georgia is bitter from being knocked down too many times by life. She is crabby and takes out her anger on a shaggy bus driver. So determined to use her degree to educate people about History, she burrows further into herself when people don’t want to spend their vacation listening to her go on and on. Were it not for the character of Irv and the acting talent of Dreyfuss, we may not have been able to see beyond Georgia’s self-pitying exterior. However, thanks to his wisdom, we do. (I’ve found that in the movies as well as in life it always takes the words of someone who has lost so much (In Irv’s case his beloved wife) to get one back on track.)
Perhaps it was unfair of me to go into this movie hoping for lightening to strike twice. Yet, looking at any promotional ad “The star of ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ is finally going to Greece.” it is obvious that that is what the producers wanted you to think. Unfortunately for Vardalos, not many people saw her first movie for her. Personally, it is a favorite of mine because of her character's family. Having been partially raised in a large extended family like hers (Mine is Italian), I enjoyed finally being able to point at something to explain away some of my behavior and why I was never able to put friends first growing up. Ruins has no funny family members, but it still relies heavily on making fun of Greek customs. Though this worked for me before, I found the jokes to be offensive this time around. In families, you make fun of each other, but you are able to do that because you love each other. When people make fun of the silly customs of your culture, you still can stand with your family and laugh because of how true the jokes are. However, the jokes fell flat for me this time because it felt like Vardalos was critiquing her people instead of pointing out lovable quirks. Her movie relies so heavily on the potential humor of cultural stereotypes (Americans are annoying because they don’t understand cultural things and are selfish. Spanish women are all about sex and nothing more. British people are stuck up and can’t enjoy anything. Australians drink so heavily that no one can understand them even when they aren’t drunk. Greeks are lazy, uneducated and sloppy.) that you can’t get lost in the beautiful locations and you find it hard to cheer for a love match.
If you are a fan of Nia Vardalos and/or Richard Dreyfuss I recommend you rent this movie when it becomes available on dvd. As I said, it isn’t a bad movie. However, it doesn’t come close to My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
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