If My Big Fat Greek Wedding had a bi-cultural Australian child, it would be Alex & Eve. Think back to 2002 and the surprise success of that romantic comedy that starred and was written by Nia Vardalos. Was it the greatest rom/com of all time? No. But there was something infectious, loving and humorous about it that warmed hearts and touched romantics in a particular way.
Fifteen year later, writer Alex Lykos (the script is based on his stage play, and the play is based on his life) and director Peter Andrikidis are digging into that same bag of tricks and the results mirror that of MBFGW: Alex (Richard Brancatisano), a thirtysomething Australian high school teacher of Greek descent, is so close with his students that they aren’t afraid to swear in his class or tell him when he is wrong. Once they learn that their bachelor instructor has met Eve (Andrea Demetriades), a nice Lebanese Muslim lawyer, and waffles about dating her, they blast him. Out of love, they push him into her arms.
Standing in Alex’s way, besides his own insecurities and ambivalence, are his hotheaded closed-minded father George (Tony Nikolakopoulos), Eve’s snippy and culture-bound mom Salwa (Helen Chebatte) and the fact that the lawyer has been promised to a young man in Lebanon. The cards are stacked against this Romeo and Juliet, and through a series of nicely constructed and engaging challenges most viewers will follow the couple’s rocky romance until it ends or finds a new beginning.
The style and tone is in the sitcom mode: Large laughs, outraged hand wringing, physical humor, misunderstandings and, of course, cultural bias (evoking All in the Family). When that can’t bring a smile to your face, there is crude humor: “How do you know she is Greek? You can see her mustache from here.”
For Americans who think culture and religious clashes only happen here, this is verification that the adjustments we have to make to other people’s differences is a universal endeavor. In this case the lessons to be learned are coated in classic storytelling that is charming but not all that original. Just ask Shakespeare.
Music director Jane Jacob’s choice of tunes varies nicely between Greek and Lebanese sounds that are fun to hear. Joseph Pickering’s cinematography has warmth that accentuates Sydney’s suburb’s inviting sunshine. The costumes worn by students, Alex and particularly Eve during a wedding ceremony have a pizzazz (costume designer Leah Giblin). The pacing has an inner rhythm that is pretty consistent, even though the film runs for two hours (editor Neil Thumpston, The Year My Voice Broke).
The leads, Brancatisano and Demetriades, give performances that are suitably enticing. They play into their characters imperfections and bad choices well. They fumble so many opportunities for bliss that they endear themselves quickly. Nikolakopoulos as the perpetually enraged Greek Orthodox dad and Chebatte as the irate Muslim mom play to the cheap seats with their histrionic antics. It’s as if they were in a touring company of Zorba the Greek. There isn’t one weak portrayal in the entire film.
If you’re expecting a major flaw, you won’t find any. If you’re looking for profound social revelations, that’s asking too much. What’s on view, in its own disarming way, is a love story that is as old as the hills, played out in modern times where the Montagues (Romeo’s family) are Greek and the Capulets (Juliet’s clan) are Lebanese. Hopeless romantics will have a big, fat good time.