A big, fat gagfest

June 8, 2009, midnight | By Julia Wynn | 11 years, 8 months ago

Hackneyed humor salvages "My Life in Ruins" defunct plot

Take "The Simpsons" humor, add gorgeous Grecian scenery and awkwardly arranged life lessons and "My Life in Ruins" comes to life. It's a simple formula, but in need of a commanding plot to string the parts together. With a generally unlikable cast of characters, the movie depends on the pitiable protagonist for direction - at least actress Nia Vardalos ("My Big Fat Greek Wedding") can handle the burden.

In fact, Vardalos' character is what saves the movie from being a mere anthology of humorous scenes. Stuck in an unrewarding job as a tour guide of ancient Greek ruins, Georgia (Varadalos) is an uptight and virtually friendless woman who finds herself alone in her appreciation of ancient Greek history. She came to the country to find her moji, or passion, but is consistently unimpressed with the apathetic, laid-back philosophy of the Greeks. The travelers on her four-day bus tour give her even more pain with their exaggerated, stereotypical personalities including "funny old man," "hot, divorced women still looking" and "loud Americans." Much comic relief is contrived from these characters, but most of it is tasteless because of the typecast personalities.

Writer Mike Reiss has also composed numerous screenplays of the "The Simpsons," as well as "The Simpsons Movie," and even stepped up to produce a few episodes. His touch is evident in the juvenile humor in "Ruins." For instance, Georgia's bus driver prefers a nickname that is pronounced "poopie." Other attempts at jocularity are merely groan-worthy, as when one tourist has sunscreen in his eye and Georgia is convinced that he is winking at her. The third category of unwelcome humor throughout "Ruins" is simply inappropriate, such as when an American teenager is unaware that the Greek shirt another tour guide bought for him has homosexual invitations on the back. As the boy attacks the guide with revenge, a few Greek men jump on the pair with the idea that the American is initiating an orgy.

Vardalos is able to pull off the most comedic flare in this film. Her ability to work more serious lines with undertones of humour is especially successful. Particularly when the endless misfortunes Georgia encounters on her tour dominate the plot, Vardalos prevents the hardships from becoming too stale. Her tight grasp of her isolated yet dedicated character brings the movie the meaning and drive that keep it from sinking to mediocre territory. Richard Dreyfuss' ("W.") heartwarming portrayal of the "funny old man," with surprisingly more to offer than tasteless jokes, is also instrumental in keeping the film afloat. His sincere efforts to help Georgia gain the respect of her group produce touching moments in an otherwise trivial film.

The movie is also plagued by a few cheesy, unconvincing scenes that seek to make the ending as fairytale-like as possible. And throughout the film, the intermittent depiction of life lessons about love and confidence in one's passions would be evocative except for the way in which they are delivered. While the tour is stopped at the oracle of Delphi, Dreyfuss' character acts as the god of the oracle, giving legitimately profound, useful advice that speaks to the grave life problems of many of the tourists. Unfortunately, the potentially poignant moment is ruined by the contrived setting.

"My Life in Ruins" has the promise to be entertaining even with the transparent plot because of the perfectly stereotyped cast of characters, which provides nonstop joviality and blitheness, even if it is over-the-top. Viewers will inevitably laugh at these insufferable people because they have seen them all too often in their everyday lives. Likewise, there is something to be said about a unique, charming film endorsing positive personality transformations. And the interesting hint of romance doesn't hurt. Yet these redeeming qualities fail to earnestly salvage what is basically a lame comedy. Stick to weddings, Nia.

"My Life in Ruins" (95 minutes) is rated PG-13 for some sexual content. Now playing in theaters everywhere.

Julia Wynn. Hello, my name is Julia Wynn and I am looking forward to my senior year as a member of the Silver Chips Online staff. I love to dance (especially poms), listen to music and play piano. My two main food necessities are any kind of … More »

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