reviewed by Marc Glassman
My Life in Ruins. Donald Petrie, director. Tom Hanks & Gary Goetzman (and others), producers. Nia Vardalos and Mike Reiss, script. Starring: Nia Vardalos (Georgia), Richard Dreyfuss (Irv Gordon), Alexis Georgoulis (Prokopis aka Poupi), Rachel Dratch (Kim), Harland Williams (Big Al), Caroline Goodall (Mrs. Tullen), Ian Ogilvy (Mrs. Tullen), Alistair McGowan (Nico)
Imagine the scenario: you’re a struggling publicist and somehow you land the account for a new comedy called My Life in Ruins. The studio sends a DVD and what you see makes you shudder. It’s a kinda sitcom in which a 40-something Hollywood actress, playing younger, finds love while guiding a bunch of American tourists through the archeological ruins around Athens. Hey, her life is in ruins until this tour happens — get it?
Ok. You’re sweating. What can make this old dog of a tale bark again? You need this gig as much as Georgia, the character played by Nia Vardalos in the flick, needs to find romance. You do a bit of research and discover that this Vardalos character is originally from Winnipeg — yikes!, a Canadian — and that she’s tailored the script as a belated follow up to her hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
You stay up half the night and enter the meeting room at the studio with loads of excitement. “Nia Vardalos is back and Poupi Cacas has got her! How’s that for a headline?” You look at the blank faces in front of you. “No? How about: That Big Fat Greek Wedding girl has lost weight and is gonna get kefi!” One of the execs pipes up, “what’s kefi?” And you say: “According to Ms. Vardalos, it’s the Greek word for ‘zest for life.’”
You’re obviously not hitting a home run yet. Desperate, you say, “How about: ‘That Thin Greek Girl finally gets Married?’” The execs moan collectively and not only fire you but your cousin Morty, who got you the job. Now, your life is in ruins, too. So’s Morty’s.
And all because you couldn’t deliver a Poupi Cacas line with belief in your eyes. Now, take Nia Vardalos. She can do that; yep, she actually named the hunky bus driver who becomes her love interest in this silly comedy Poupi Cacas. My Life in Ruins is the kind of film that references the Anthony Quinn ‘60s hit Zorba the Greek as a brilliant example of Greek culture. Vardalos is Greek or at least Greek-Canadian; you’d think she’d know better — but, after all, this is a film produced by Tom Hanks.
Truthfully, taking apart Nia Vardalos isn’t good sport. She’s clearly talented and appears to be quite likeable. The problem with this film is that it’s false, false, false. My Big Fat Greek Wedding felt real but exaggerated — in the proper comic manner. But how are we supposed to react to Ms. Vardalos playing a young, innocent woman who doesn’t understand how to get love in her life? To make you laugh, comedy has to be about something real. It can be crazily absurd but there must be a kernel of truth from which the humour can arise.
Here, the only times that occurs is when Vardalos is playing off the comic timing of Richard Dreyfuss in his persona as an aging, arrogant — but benevolent — Jewish mentor. It may be a stereotype but Dreyfus lets you into Irv Gordon, an overbearing guy who thinks he’s funnier that he is, but makes up for it by being touching and sad. Irv’s Life is in Ruins, too, since the death of his wife (which is why he’s on the trip), but he asks for no favours and spends his time working on getting Vardalos’ Georgia her “kefi.”
A really daring film would have had Irv bed Georgia instead of the beautiful Poupi. But hey, Tom Hanks wouldn’t have produced it and poor Nia might have been stuck back in Winnipeg with those Hollywood Blues again.
Should you see this film? Well, there are some laughs and Greece is beautiful to look at this time of the year. My dear, you could do worse — but honestly, you could do much better, too.