My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) currently tops the list of wedding-related movies at the box office, earning a lifetime worldwide figure of over US$368 million. Set in Chicago, and based on the life experiences of Nia Vardalos, the story follows the path of Toula Portokalos (Vardalos) as she grows out of her strict Greek Orthodox upbringing.
When we first meet Toula, she is a bespectacled, chubby girl working in her father’s Greek restaurant. After eyeing a man across the dining room, she decides to start westernising herself by getting contact lenses and adopting a more modern appearance. The physical changes aren’t the only things to happen to her; she enrols in a computer course and eventually lands a job in her aunt’s travel agency.
It is there where she finally meets (and falls for) the non-Greek man she saw in the restaurant, Ian Miller, played by John Corbett. Various Greek vs WASP culture differences ensue, where Toula’s father, Gus (Michael Constantine) tries to re-impose his will and have her marry a Greek man. The differences between cultures are most often comical, as when Gus uses popular window cleaner Windex as a cure all for any and all ailments. Ian tries to bridge this gap by being baptized into the Greek Orthodox Church.
Despite various other stereotypical speed bumps, the couple finally marries and ends up living right next door to Toula’s family. My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a sleeper hit that spawned a short-lived television series on ABC called “My Big Fat Greek Life”. Interestingly enough, the movie was produced by Tom Hanks’ PlayTone studios after he and his wife Rita Wilson saw Nia Vardalos’ one woman play in Los Angeles.
On the bottom half of the wedding box office earnings lies another gem of a matrimonial movie: Muriel’s Wedding. Earning a little over US$57million at the box office worldwide, this 1995 somewhat cult film starring Toni Collette helped put Australia firmly on the cinematic map. Muriel Heslop (Toni Collette) is the daughter of an abusive, shady politician in Porpoise Spit, Australia, who constantly dreams of getting married. In her quest, she uses a blank cheque to abscond to Sydney with her throw-caution-to-the-wind friend Rhonda, played by Rachel Griffiths. Once there, she changes her name to Mariel and gets what she thinks is her dream come to life.
The interesting thing about Muriel’s Wedding is that it places a premium on the way dreams that depend on others can hollow one out, so that the day-to-day starts to be lost on the all-or-nothing quest. As one reviewer said of the ending of the film, “One of the most pleasant aspects of Muriel’s Wedding is the distinctly unconventional third act… it continually flouts the ‘feel good’ formulas that typically characterize this sort of romantic comedy. The ending is far-from-perfect, but it’s a great deal better than several obvious alternatives.”
The film created a catchphrase that you can hear fairly regularly if you spend any great amount of time with a gathering of Aussies: “You’re terrible, Muriel”. Muriel’s Wedding won a host of awards in Australia, including Australian Film Institute Awards for Best Film, Best Actress – Toni Collette, Best Supporting Actress – Rachel Griffiths, and Best Achievement in Sound (possibly for the liberal use of ABBA).