This must be my favorite execution of the family-focused romance. You know, the kind where one person falls in love with another person, and also their family. It was done beautifully in While You Were Sleeping. You see it with the single dad’s little family in The Holiday.
Here, the open-hearted way that Ian (John Corbett) embraces the family of Toula (Nia Vardalos) is especially healing. I love when a romance puts together two characters who just feel like they need each other — not in a weird codependent way, but like something was missing for both of them, and the other person has it. Ian has a wholehearted acceptance of Toula, a large part of which is her family, that Toula needs in order to accept she deserves love. Toula has a life filled with fun and laughter and family, which Ian (single child of two perpetually confused parents) is lacking.
The chemistry is off the charts for Ian and Toula. The fact we know they’ve gotta get married (the movie title promises it) just makes me absolutely *squirm* with delight seeing how much Ian falls smitten with Toula instantly. She’s still shuffling through self-doubt when this man, in his heart, has already married her and made seventeen kids together. It’s the kind of When You Know You Know love that we all hope for.
As a story about an immigrant culture in America, you can also feel the love from the creators for all things Greek. Sometimes this is an eye-rolling love for restaurants named Aphrodite’s Palace, wedding invitations with the Greek flag, and styling the front of your ranch house like the Parthenon. But it’s mostly just sincere, genuine love for the quirks of a big weird family, like your dad who is convinced Windex is a medical cure-all.
Coming from different cultures makes for potential hiccups, but Ian’s willingness to turn the world upside-down to accept every atom of Toula means that everything goes fine anyway. Toula’s traditional dad is afraid of losing something important if his daughter marries a guy who isn’t Greek. But Ian doesn’t bat an eye. He does everything he can to assimilate with the family, and that’s meaningful for a family that’s been halfway assimilated to a new country and fiercely defending what’s left of their traditions. Ian makes it clear: I’m gonna defend these traditions with you. He even uses Windex on his pimple. Now that’s love.
On a personal note, this movie feels like family to me personally. I’ve been watching it constantly since it came out, so these characters have been in my life since I was a teenager, and revisiting the movies always feels like going to visit with cousins I haven’t seen in a minute. (I will be watching the sequels soon, but I haven’t yet.)
My husband’s family is Italian American, his granddad having immigrated with his family, and parts of this feel very authentic to his experience. I think that my mom, a first generation American from the Irish diaspora, also seemed to relate to this strongly when we watched it together. I think this must be a story for a lot of families. How many Americans have only been Americans for a couple generations?
We had Irish flags hanging on the walls when I grew up, as well as banners covered in the Irish language, with songs, fables, and maps on constant display. I never got good at pronouncing Irish. But I got candy from my grandma’s visit to her home in Dublin annually, and I learned how to play tin whistle while feeling guilty about not attending church, which is fairly Irish Catholic.
In a way, these things are the ways my mom and grandma were ways they tried to keep alive tradition. Just like how my spouse’s family used to participate in Italian-related festivals every year, flying their flags, making their family recipes, and being a big shouting mess of sprawling multigenerational family.
They wanted this important part of their families, themselves, to remain alive in the memories of children who never set foot in their home countries. That longing is very sweet. I bet a lot of Americans recognize this story as similar to their own.