Cures Beyond Windex
by Daniella Dworschak
Besides educating viewers on the universal cure that is Windex, Nia Vardalos’ heartwarming comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) portrays the food, craziness, and love found within a Greek family. Although the movie focuses on the sometimes ludicrous obstacles the protagonists Tula and Ian face before getting married, the movie’s depth stems from Tula’s journey toward accepting and embracing her heritage and cultural identity. Food is known to be a large part of Greek heritage, however, in the film both Ian and Tula’s familial identity is expressed through the presentation of food or the lack thereof.
From the movie’s commencement it is clear that Tula’s family is adamant about embracing their Greek heritage. From the Greek flag painted on the garage to Tula’s father’s swearing that every word has its roots in Greek origin, being Greek is Tula’s family’s way of life. One important aspect of their heritage is the presence of food as a source of community. Tula’s parents own a Greek restaurant where each member of the family is involved in some way. Tula also claims her mom was “always in the kitchen cooking food with warmth and wisdom and never forgetting that side dish of steaming hot guild”. However, although Tula loves her family, she never fully embraces her heritage as she felt it set her apart from others in a negative light. When in elementary school she was laughed at for eating “moose caca” and resented having to go to Greek school when all the other girls got to go to Brownies. It was these childhood experiences in which demonstrating her Greek heritage ostracized her and later created her desire to pull away from her culture. She describes her family by stating, “I’m Greek right…My whole family is big and loud and we’re always together eating, eating, eating…And Greeks marry Greeks to breed more Greeks to be loud breeding Greek eaters”. This comical portrayal of Tula’s family shows both how engrained food and feasting is within their culture, but also demonstrates Tula’s mild bitterness towards her family. It is only when discovering the richness of her culture, in comparison to Ian’s, that Tula is able to appreciate her family and find a truer sense of self.
Throughout the movie scenes of feasting are shown in both Tula and Ian’s family to compare the depth of their respective cultural heritage. Because Tula realizes the liveliness of her family’s feasting as compared to Ian’s, she rediscovers love for her family’s culture. When the couple goes to eat at Ian’s parents’ house for the first time the ambiance is very bleak and all that is seen is neutral colors, a vast contrast to the brightly decorated meals at Tula’s home. Furthermore, there is no meal actually served at Ian’s house, only the promise that a cheesecake will be brought out. As food is a great expression of culture, especially in Tula’s family, the lack of food represents a lack of depth in culture. Cheesecake is in itself is also a very simple, culturally ambiguous dish which doesn’t provide much substance or flavor. Ian’s family mirrors this cultural ambiguity, illustrating that the food people consume can show a lack of cultural identity.
Tula’s parent’s dinner, dissimilarly, is a feast filled with lots of people and lamb roasting on a spit. The feast given by Tula’s family for Ian’s parents is the most iconic scene of the movie illustrating how food expresses the Portocokalos’ culture. Non-diegetic Greek music swells as the Ian’s parents get closer to the party. The feast is clearly one of celebration: all of the Greek relatives are dancing around the roasting lamb-the food acting as the clear center of the merriment. As the in-laws arrive the music subsides and the noise instead becomes the music of the Greek family shouting welcomes. Compared to the cold anti-feast of Ian’s parents, the atmosphere full of food and people is exemplary of the sense of community the Portokalos’ like to create as part of their culture. The fire burning in the front yard also symbolizes the love and passion found within the family’s customs. While heat has associations of warmth and comfort, the cold food served at the Millers house is a reflection of their family customs as well. Along with the fire and roasted lamb, the cake which Ian’s parents bring to the feast is also quite representative. When Tula’s mother is presented with the Bundt she cannot understand why there would be a hole in it and remedies this with comically inserting a flower pot into the Bundt. Although this is just a cultural misunderstanding, it is quite logical to question why anyone would want a hole in a cake as it provides less substance. The hole could represent the lack of rich culture in Ian’s family which Tula’s mom attempts to fill with a flower pot and her Greek heritage. After experiencing Ian’s family, Tula realizes that although her family is loud and overbearing it is merely out of love. By marrying Ian in the Greek Church, Tula embraces her Greek heritage while also merging with a new one. Tula’s father describes the union perfectly when explaining that Ian’s last name Miller roughly translates to “apple” and that Tula’s last name means “orange” and while they are all different in the end they are all fruit. Tula explains that she figured out that, “[her] family is big and loud but they’re [her] family, and wherever [she] goes whatever [she] does they will always be there”. It is through newly appreciating her family’s heritage and food that Tula is able to define her own identity.
Although Tula’s family is boisterous and forceful, the process of marrying Ian allowed her to discover gratefulness for her family’s culture. It is through food and feasting that Tula first found her dislike of her culture, however, the comparison to Ian’s family dinners revived her appreciation and love for it as well. My Big Fat Greek Wedding emphasizes how food is more than just a vessel to bring people together but can be a representation of who one is.