My Life in Ruins
Nia Vardalos, Richard Dreyfuss, Alexis Georgoulis, Rachel Dratch, Caroline Goodall
US theatrical: 5 Jun 2009 (General release)
Georgia (Nia Vardalos) is a Greek-American working as a second-rate tour guide at a third-rate travel agency in Athens. Unhappy, aimless, and lonely, she looks out on a life plan a shambles. As her boss (Bernice Stegers) puts it, Georgia has lost her kefi, or her mojo.
As My Life in Ruins begins, Georgia is weary of being assigned the “Group B” tourists, whom she reduces to types: the Beer-Drinking Australians, the British Snobs, the Euro-trash Divorcees on the Prowl, the Hickster Americans, and the self-professed Funny Guy (in this case Irv, played by Richard Dreyfuss).
Georgia’s tendency to caricature is not limited to tacky tourists. Despite her professed love for the country, she is equally condescending to Greeks: their pace is too slow, they take too many naps and coffee breaks, they share a Zorba-like love of dancing. It’s too much too hope for that My Life in Ruins would offer all this gross stereotyping up for critique or at least an object lesson for Georgia. Instead, she just learns to like everyone and appreciate them for the cartoonish people they are. En route to her enlightenment, Georgia shows off her expertise in Greek architecture, imagining that as she shares her knowledge, she will also transform her clients from crass to cultured. We see that in doing so (and boring them to tears), she also fits a stereotype: an uptight, snobby academic who doesn’t know how to have fun.
Lucky she has Irv to instruct her. The tour group’s de facto leader and eventually Georgia’s too, he offers such sage bits of advice as “Relax!” and “You’re looking for obstacles instead of looking for magic.” When he’s deemed the “deity” of the group, Irv announces, “I bless you in the name of Socrates, Hippocrates, and Feta Cheese!” His pronouncements seem profound to everyone, including Georgia.
The younger, Greek version of Irv’s wise man is the bus driver, Poupy (Alexis Georgoulis). Initially shaggy and unappealing, Poupy quickly reveals himself not only to be hotter than he first appears (thereby qualifying him to be Georgia’s potential love interest), but also in touch with what’s important in life. He is a bus driver not because that’s the only thing he’s qualified to do, but because he prefers the view of his native land from the front of the bus, or as he calls it, “the best seat in the house.” (These views might have been the one salvation of this otherwise lackluster film—like those in Mamma Mia!—but My Life in Ruins comes up short here too.)
Of all this film’s many disappointments, Georgia may be the most egregious. Her desperate need to be saved by Poupy is a function of her apparent alienation. This even though she is an independent soul, having forged a life for herself in a foreign country, improvising when necessary and making the best of her circumstances. Still, no one pays much attention to her intelligence (or her architecture lessons) until she starts faking orgasms while pretending to be a virgin sacrifice to Zeus (“Sex sells,” Irv advises). Instead, she is reduced to finding her solutions in one man’s pontificating and another man’s bed. Georgia’s eventual self-realization is a foregone and familiar conclusion. Worse, she is so similar to Vardalos’ Toula in 2002’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding that this film comes across as self-indulgent and frankly, lazy.