My Life in Ruins (2009) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual content
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast: Nia Vardalos, Richard Dreyfuss, Alexis Gourgoulis, Alistair McGowan, Harland Williams, Rachel Dratch, Caroline Goodall, Ian Ogilvy, Sopie Stuckey, Maria Botto, Maria Aldanez, Brian Palermo, Jareb Dauplaise, Rita Wilson
Director: Donald Petrie
Screenplay: Mike Reiss
Georgia (Vardalos, My Big Fat Greek Wedding) is a tour guide with a flair for the historical significance of the places she regularly shows tourists in her transplanted home of Greece. Unfortunately, the tourists find the history lessons tedious, as her low-scoring feedback cards will attest. It doesn't help that she regularly gets the dregs of the customers -- annoying Americans, hot-to-trot Spanish cougars, bickering old people -- while the good ones flock to rival tour guide, the charismatic Nico (Gourgoulis). She's stuck in a rut, and it only gets worse, as her regular bus driver is replaced at the last moment by a hairy, uncouth Greek named (of all things) Poupi Kakas. After just a little while, she plans to make this tour her last, but sometimes love and happiness can happen when you least expect it, as her wise old widower passenger Irv (Dreyfuss, W.) makes it his mission to show her.
My Life in Ruins is a pleasant, innocuous romantic comedy that is too inoffensive to hate, but also too clichéd and derivative to recommend. Perhaps it could appeal to older viewers (my grandmother, for instance) who like old-fashioned travelogue comedies full of romance, whimsy and corny jokes, because it's safe, and extols the virtues and wisdom of our elders. If it's skimpy on characterizations, it makes up for it by employing some pretty basic stereotypes for easy identification -- Greeks are fun-loving, Americans oblivious and boorish, old people wise and whimsical, married people bicker, single people are out to get laid, Australians love beer and have unintelligible accents, and Italians gesticulate wildly and passionately.
My Life in Ruins smacks of a film created based on marketing, and as such, it's too much of a product meant to please a broad spectrum of viewers. In other words, it's bland enough for most people to find inoffensively passable. In so doing, that also means that no risks are taken with the material, which posits sitcom situations one after the other, all the while bolstered by the gorgeous sights of the ruins of ancient Greece, and Nia Vardalos' gorgeous gams. Unlike Vardalos' last major hit, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, she doesn't have anything to do with the writing of the film, which is credited to Mike Reiss (The Simpsons Movie, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs). Again, as this is a movie built on marketability, it would make sense to go after the actor that best markets the product, and as Anthony Quinn and Telly Savalas are unavailable, Vardalos proves to be the major force for films involving colorful Greeks. Even having the same first word in the title assures it a spot not too far from My Big Fat Greek Wedding on the video store shelves.
One of the ironies of the film is that it is, at its core, about a woman who trades in her interests and love of culture in order to give her audience what it wants -- sexiness, romance, and a dose of the fanciful. The crowd is appeased by the romanticized tidbits, but they come away learning absolutely nothing about Greece or its history, only enjoying the beautiful sights and yarns spun merely to elicit smiles and tears (Call me a nerd, but I want my tour guides to impart history and factual trivia, not tell me something anyone could have made up). As goes Georgia, so does the movie, which itself is nothing more than an attempt by its creators to leave people smiling by offering a romanticized idea about Greece. It's more an infomercial for the Greek tourism board, along with product placement for IHOP and Fosters beer, than it is a film with its own story to tell.
©2010 Vince Leo