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My Life in Ruins (Blu-ray)

Director: Donald Petrie
Cast: Nia Vardalos, Richard Dreyfuss, Alexis Georgoulis

(26 Films and Playtone Productions; US DVD: 6 Oct 2009)

When My Big Fat Greek Wedding hit theaters in the late spring of 2002, a couple of key components helped it to a whopping $241 million domestic gross. First of all, it held firmly to the tried and true romantic comedy formulas. More importantly, though, its single twist on the basic model elevated the film from a targeted niche market to an international one. 


Greece and everything related to the southeastern European country was suddenly the latest craze. Outsiders grew attached to the jovial customs presented in the film and Grecians went along with the ride, probably glad their culture was finally garnering some stateside recognition. The popularity has sustained itself to this day with the help of another fashionable Greek-set film, Mamma Mia!. But what it always boils down to is simply the quality of the story presented, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a well-executed and enjoyable comedy. 


The next step, if you’re a Hollywood producer, is to try to capitalize on this commodity. Whether it’s a poorly received TV-spinoff or other Grecian-themed films, Hollywood continues to supply audiences with available means to latch onto the hip new culture. The latest attempt is blatantly obvious – they (the Hollywood big-wigs) have taken the star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding and combined her with her native land. That’s right. The big draw of My Life in Ruins is you can see Nia Vardalos in Greece. Well, kind of in Greece.

Though the filmmakers did get to shoot in Athens and Olympia, the visuals never have the impact they should considering the depicted subjects. Cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine somehow makes his 35mm stock look like amateur video footage with overly bright colors and tight frames. Each shot of an ancient ruin barely seems to fit it all in the picture, but Alcaine still keeps the viewer fairly far from the structure. This keeps us from appreciating the magnitude of the edifice while simultaneously preventing us from seeing any of its beguiling details. Instead, we get lots of close-ups of the mostly unattractive cast staring dumbly at one another. This is a missed opportunity that’s painful to behold.


Sadly, if the footage would have been at all interesting, My Life in Ruins may have been a passable romantic comedy. The story is simple, predictable, but not wholly unappealing. Vardalos plays Georgia, a travel guide frustrated with her career and her vacation companions (she even groups them into stereotypical factions before the trip in the film’s one ugly scene). She seems to be haphazardly interested in finding a boyfriend, but it never seems essential in her search for happiness. By now, we know what’s coming. Georgia has some yuks, grows to like her travel partners, and eventually ends up in the arms of the perfect man. 


As I said, the movie is a pretty simple tale, but the x factor needed to elevate it above its peers is absent. Unlike My Big Fat Greek Wedding, none of the Greek aspects of the film are ever fully developed. Greece is merely a backdrop and an unjust tease for fans in search of taking a true cinematic tour of a beautiful country. There’s little to learn from the film or its commentary track by Vardalos. Though it’s a perfectly acceptable bonus feature, her words also lack any juice, excitement, or pertinence.


The same goes for the deleted scenes and optional director’s commentary included on both the DVD and Blu-ray editions. The duo is exactly what you’ve come to expect from releases where bonus features aren’t too special – nothing we care to know and nothing we need to know. 


Unfortunately, all this adds up to a film inferior to its well-received predecessor. The ingredients peppered around the main course are similar, but they’re the generic substitutes instead of the slightly more expensive and better-tasting name brands. Vardalos is still there, but her supporting cast, script, and filmmakers just aren’t the same caliber as those who produced the blockbuster smash from seven years ago. 


Granted, My Big Fat Greek Wedding is far from a classic, and much of its financial success can be attributed to its peddling of a new commodity. Most of the time, moviegoers cannot tell a film’s quality by its box office numbers. In this case, however,  (and much of the time with romantic comedies that are so dependent on audience investment) dollars don’t lie. Take the $241 million (grossing) blockbuster and leave the $8.6 million indie flick behind.

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Ben Travers is an awards season analyst and prognosticator with a devout interest in all things film & TV. Mr. Travers lives in Los Angeles as an experienced writer and filmmaker with an extensive portfolio of coverage, including thorough reporting on the Academy Awards, weekly box office reports, and more reviews written than will ever be read. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa with degrees in both journalism and cinema.


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