I got the impression from My Big Fat Greek Wedding that Nia Vardalos could be a funny writer and performer. I'm trying to give her the benefit of the doubt after seeing My Life in Ruins.
But it's a struggle. Let's just say that comedy is the victim, not the victor, in this film.
You watch a movie this painfully flat and you want to start assigning blame. So you look through the credits. Let's see:
Vardalos? Well, she was funny in Greek Wedding, which she wrote. And she's got Second City training. (Which is no proof of anything; so does Dan Aykroyd - and he hasn't been funny in 20 years.)
The script? Writer Mike Reiss is a veteran of The Simpsons and It's Garry Shandling's Show. Not to mention Sledge Hammer and The Critic, two underrated TV sitcoms. (On the other hand, he names a major character Poupi Kaka - then gives him a nephew, Dudi Kaka.)
The director? There you go.
Donald Petrie's resume includes Welcome to Mooseport, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Grumpy Old Men. Sure, he directed Mystic Pizza - but a) that wasn't a comedy and b) everyone was so busy falling over themselves about discovering Julia Roberts that they gave the film a pass, despite its cliched, sentimental romantic melodrama.
As Robert Altman once said, 90% of directing is casting. With Ruins, Petrie seems completely tone deaf in that regard. Once he got Vardalos in place, with Richard Dreyfuss as the jokey old codger who imparts wisdom to her, Petrie lowered his sights considerably: Rachel Dratch. Harland Williams. And significantly lesser lights. Not exactly the A list.
(This seems to be the month for hack comedy directors: Petrie. Brad Silberling and Land of the Lost. Shawn Levy and Night of the Museum. It's like a plague.)
The story itself is predictable but not off-putting. Vardalos is Georgia, an American expatriate in Athens, who was laid off from the university teaching job that brought her to Greece. Now she works as a guide for a low-rent tour bus operation - and always winds up with the bus full of losers: the crass Americans, the uptight Brits, the slow-moving seniors.
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