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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Review: My Life In Ruins (2009)


Director: Donald Petrie
Starring: Nia Vardalos, Richard Dreyfuss

Do you hear that sound? It’s the tired gears of this plot grinding away, begging to be put out of their misery. I can’t remember the last time I saw a film where the plot machinery was so clearly visible and where everyone involved seemed to be proceeding with a “let’s just get this over with” attitude. I wasn’t even expecting that much from this, just light, fluffy summer entertainment but I find it difficult to be entertained by things that never aspire to more than the lowest common denominator. The closest this film gets to wit is having a character named Poopy Kakas, who has a nephew named Doody Kakas. Har.

Many years ago, I was counted amongst those who succumbed to the charms of a minor phenomenon known as My Big Fat Greek Wedding. That film, written by and starring Nia Vardalos, an unlikely leading lady to be sure, was charming and funny even if some of its brush strokes were a bit broad. Whatever it lacked in finesse it made up for in heart, and its success was due in no small part to Vardalos’ very relatable persona. Vardalos is still pretty relatable (albeit considerably leaner than in the previous film), but that presents something of a problem here. Because her screen persona is easy to identify with, you end up feeling bad for her because she’s stuck with this material, which seems to have gone straight from first draft to screen without any buffing and polishing in between.

Vardalos is Georgia, a history professor who has lost her university position and is now making ends meets as a tour guide in Greece. Her tours aren’t fun in that she refuses to go to beaches and insists on getting into the actual history of the area in a very detailed way when all the tourists want to do is head to the gift shop. Because she isn’t a crowd pleaser she gets stuck with the bad bus, the bad driver and the bad group, while her rival gets the good bus, the good driver and the group made up of “polite Canadians.” Having spent all my life around Canadians, I have to tell you that if I were on vacation I think I’d rather spend it with the drunk, unintelligible Australians in Georgia’s Group B.

Group B is comprised of a bunch of stereotypes, characters who have tics rather than personalities. One of these characters, Irv (Richard Dreyfuss), gains some dimension as the film wears on, succeeding by the sheer force of Dreyfuss’ will to overcome the hackneyed machinations of the plot. I don’t think this film ever met a cliché it didn’t fall madly in love with, which would be fine if the filmmakers had any understanding of how to incorporate those elements into a story. Instead they’ve built a chain of clichés with nothing around them that you can invest in. I truly believe that a decent film could have been made from the premise of this one, but the writing here is so indefensibly lazy that there is nothing of substance or value to be found in it.

I really don't know what else I can tell you about this movie. The scenery is nice, but I don't know if My Life In Ruins can actually take credit for that. This is a bad movie, plain and simple. Vardalos will be back in theaters next month with her directorial debut I Hate Valentine's Day - I haven't seen it but I feel fairly safe in saying that if you have to see one Nia Vardalos film this year, see that one.


Ron said...

Loved the film, comic and good fun.

Brianna said...

I thought it was good. Something to watch when your bored senseless.