When asked, what defines a family, I feel that many people may describe it differently. To some it may mean a mom and a dad, maybe even same sex parents, and brothers and sisters; the concept of nuclear family. To another, it could mean something much larger. Extended family can vary from aunts and uncles, to second cousins, grandparents and nieces and nephews. Within My Big Fat Greek Wedding, we get a glimpse of Toula Portokalos’ life. Toula comes from a very large Greek family who hold their customs and values very high. Toula is expected to follow the wishes of her father and maintain the role that she has been given in the family business. There is a heavy emphasis placed on the importance of all members of the family, even the extended. It is thought of as out of character if someone strays away from the wishes of the head of household, who is typically the father in Greek culture. Toula greatly changed the perspectives of her family by taking a step back and doing what she wanted. Toula falls in love with someone who was not Greek and teaches her family, especially her father, a lesson in acceptance.
When we look at Toula’s family, we see her, her parents, her brother and sister, 27 first cousins, a grandmother, a few nephews, and an unnamed number of aunts and uncles. The whole family is involved with one another’s business, and everyone seems to be very close in Toula’s family, regardless of how large her family is. When we first meet Toula, she is thirty years old and working at her parents’ diner as a greeter/seater in town, where her brother is also a cook. Toula’s sister married young and is not seen very often working at the restaurant for she is taking care of her children. When we see her family’s restaurant we also get our first glimpse into how close the extended family is because we see several of her aunts and uncles eating breakfast there, and we learn that they also have businesses in town. We also learn that Toula’s paternal grandmother lives with her, her brother, and parents. It appears Toula was fighting the urge to go against her parents’ wishes because her sister found a college brochure in a stack of menus. It was not until she saw Ian for the first time, and learned that he was a college professor that she decided to discuss college with her parents, even then she told them it would benefit their business. Her father felt as though Toula was leaving him, and was initially not pleased with the idea of her going to college, but her mother helped talk some sense into him. “Let me tell you something, Toula. The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants” (My Big Fat Greek Wedding). Although her father ends up being unhappy with quite a few decisions that Toula makes, her mother always manages to persuade him to allow her to make her own choices to be happy, like marrying Ian who is not a Greek man.
Ian Miller is an English professor at the local college. He first meets Toula at her family’s restaurant Dancing Zorba’s, and then she catches his eye again at her aunt’s travel agency. They talk and end up going out to dinner, where he asks her to go out again, even at thirty she is afraid to let her parents know that she is dating someone that is not Greek. They keep up their dates of going to dinner, until her cousin Nikki barges into the travel agency while they are together to tell her that a neighbor saw them kissing in a Denny’s parking lot, and that their little charade was over. We then see Ian meeting Toula’s family for the first time, where her father Gus is giving him a firm talking to, saying how dare he not ask him to date his daughter, even though when he does ask, he says no. I feel as though Gus is just so stuck in his ways, and that he is having a hard time accepting the fact that not everything is going to be his way. Gus’ children did not grow up in Greece, so I feel like he does not realize that although he has instilled in them so much of his Greek culture and customs, they are Americanized, they are not going to follow his strict set of guidelines because they want to fulfil their own desires. When Toula went against her parents, it also gave her brother courage to follow his dreams, he decides to enroll in college to learn more about art and paintings. When Ian brings Toula over to meet his parents, they seem so uncultured, they confused Greek with Guatemalan, which in my opinion are completely different. It seems that his parents, Rodney and Harriet, are the opposite of Toula’s family. They are quiet, classy, stuffy, and not Greek. They do not seem to dislike Toula, but they are not exactly welcoming either. When Ian proposed to Toula his parents are invited over to her house to meet the entire family, it is here that we see how uncomfortable they are with an unfamiliar culture. I feel as though his parents may have just grown up in homes or neighborhoods that were primarily middle class Americans like they were, so they were not exposed to any type of diversity. Toula’s father ended up truly accepting Ian and his marriage to his daughter, especially after he made the decision to be baptized Greek, which allowed them to be married in the Greek church. At their wedding Gus gave them a gift of a new home and said “You know, the root of the word Miller is a Greek word. Miller come from the Greek word “milo,” which is mean “apple,” so there you go. As many of you know, our name, Portokalos, is come from the Greek word “portokali,” which mean “orange.” So, okay? Here tonight, we have, ah, apple and orange. We all different, but in the end, we all fruit”. (My Big Fat Greek Wedding).
My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a great modern day example of how sometimes it is necessary to step away from the sometimes black and white guidelines we set for ourselves. The film showed how having more of a welcoming heart and open mind allows so many more opportunities of happiness to enter our lives. Although Toula came from a family that held their culture and value in a very high regard, when it truly mattered they put their traditional ways on the back burner (as best as they could) and allowed Toula to live her life for herself. I feel that in a way, regardless of what culture one may spring from, an individual is always going to want the people in their family to live happy and fulfilling lives, even if it comes with sacrifice.
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