Back in 2002, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” introduced mainstream audiences to all the heartwarming moments, overbearing relatives, and downright craziness of coming from a large Greek-American family. Somehow, Nia Vardalos’ breakout rom-com spurred a two-decade-long trilogy; sadly, the third installment relies too heavily on its stunning Corfu scenery instead of an actual plot.
This is Vardalos’ first time in the director’s chair for the trilogy that she penned; “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” is also Vardalos’ sophomore directorial effort overall. It shows. Jokes fall flat while attempts at seriousness (references to Alzheimer’s, the spreading of ashes, xenophobia — you know, the stuff heavier than Aunt Toula’s tray of baklava) are downright hilarious in their off-tone delivery.
Vardalos is back as Toula Portakolos, the new head of the family after her father Gus (Michael Constantine, who died in 2021) passed away and her mother (Lainie Kazan) now suffers from dementia. Toula is determined to carry out her dad’s last wish of bringing his old journal to his childhood friends, whom he left in their small Greek town when he came to America.
Toula’s husband Ian (John Corbett) and college student daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris) join her on the emotional journey to Greece. As first-generation Americans, Toula and her brother Nick (Louis Mandylor) have never visited the country her parents immigrated from. Fan favorite Aunt Voula (Andrea Martin) and Theia Freida (surprising scene-stealer Maria Vacratsis) also opt for a Greek vacay to support Toula and represent her mother, who cannot travel internationally.
There’s plenty of love to go around in the third film, including a sweet reference to late actor Constantine. Sparks fly between Paris and Aunt Voula’s personal assistant Aristotle (“Euphoria” alum Elisa Kacavas), leaving audiences wondering if they will be the ones to tie the knot abroad last minute. It does say “wedding” in the title of the film! But alas, there is an odd and yet not quite unexpected curveball thrown into the mix: As Toula seeks out her father Gus’ old pals, Gus’ now-deserted hometown is hosting a Portakolos family reunion, led by the sometimes irritating, sometimes endearing mayor Victory (Melina Kotselou), and there are even more Portakolos in the area than Toula even knew about…including an illegitimate brother of hers, Peter (Alexis Georgoulis).
Turns out, Gus’ ex Alexandra (a delightfully grumpy Anthi Andreopoulou) welcomed a son together that Gus never knew about, and Toula grapples with her father’s changing legacy. Nick also smuggled in Gus’ ashes — which, for the record, raised some Greek Orthodox eyebrows, as cremation is frowned upon in the religion — and Toula, Peter, and Nick return Gus to his true home.
“My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was a family favorite for this Greek American, a film that yiayias and pappous could relate to with inside jokes that only Greeks really get. Sadly, the third film does away with the first movie’s charm and leans further into the sequel’s tackiness.
Vardalos’ greatest strength with “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” is sourcing actual Greek talent; the ensemble cast with fresh faces to the franchise truly works onscreen, and in an era where actors pretend to be ethnicities they are not, it’s commendable for Vardalos to lift up rising Greek talent. Corbett has a quiet performance as Ian, befriending a local monk and basically staying out of the Portakolos family’s way. Nick’s jabs at Ian grow old — Toula and Ian have been married for 20-some years, we get that Ian isn’t Greek! — and an ongoing “joke” of Nick shaving at the dinner table takes up what feels like a third of the screen time.
The true gems of the whole franchise remain Toula’s cousins Angelo (Fatone) and Nikki (Gia Carides), who literally save the day and deliver the most laughs, sometimes without even uttering a word. Where is their spinoff? Without getting into too much detail about *NSYNC alum Fatone and the iconic Carides in the third film, their vacation is the only one worth having (and watching onscreen).
Any Angelo and Nikki standalone film would have been a better use of the budget, funded in part by producers Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, than this third film that has a tacked-on wedding involving a Syrian refugee (Stefanie Nur Buddenbrook) and Peter’s son, who is technically Toula’s nephew.
The film has tonally far-too-light nods to the refugee crisis in Greece and the backlash to Ukrainian and Syrian refugees in the country, as well as Toula and her siblings struggling through grief after losing their father, culturally the patriarch of any Greek family. Vardalos decides not to go there, and it does a great disservice to what could have been a fun yet emotionally resonant film.
Instead, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” goes for the cheap laughs and the tacky attempts at pulling heartstrings. Hopefully, this is the end of the “My Big Fat Greek” anything, weddings be damned.
“My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” premieres in theaters September 8 from Focus Features.