After all these years it was always going to happen one day. Early evening, and there were just the two of us in an otherwise empty auditorium. A weird experience which kind of suggested a variation on that great philosophical conundrum: if a film is being screened in a completely empty room, is it truly being screened at all? It was a close-run thing. And that was a shame – not just for the film and the cinema, but for cinema generally.
After all, this wasn’t a uniquely awful film. Far from it. It was sweet, engaging, slightly predictable, but utterly harmless and genuinely likeable.
The trouble with seeing any film with a number after its title is that you sit there wondering the extent to which your experience is diminished if you haven’t seen any of the earlier films in the sequence. But at least if you enjoy it, there are new experiences ahead. Or, more strictly speaking, behind you to savour. And while this one won’t necessarily send you home chomping at the bit to watch the whole franchise, it’s certainly pleasant enough while it lasts.
It gets off to a slightly worrying start as the camera skims over endless framed photos of endless unnamed relatives. Were we ever going to have a chance to catch up with it all? Well, probably not. Doubtless huge numbers of references flew over our heads and huge numbers of resonances failed to him home. But it was fun enough unpicking who was who, following all the little storylines and then watching as they all converge in a gushy heartfelt final few minutes.
This is, it seems, the first film after the death of the patriarch. And two decades after her own nuptials which began the whole thing, Toula (played by writer-director Nia Vardalos) is determined to do the right thing by her old dad and take his childhood journal back to the island home he never ever returned to this side of the grave. She’s also lured there by the promise of an island reunion by the mayor of the island. In truth, the mayor, one of the film’s most unlikely characters, is tricking them to a “remote island full of goats and anger”, as one of the other characters quaintly describes it. But coming along for the ride are any number of rellies spanning all the generations, each one of them relentless quirky in a way which seems to conjure each and every one of the Greek stereotypes. All of them variously clash even as they variously start to bond, just as the island magic finally starts to do its thing.
One or two of them you’d happily put on the next boat out of there, particularly the brother whose supposedly endearing trait is to endlessly pluck and prune his nose and nasal hair. There’s also an aunt for whom everything is an omen… which also gets a bit wearing.
But with total predictability, all the threads slightly haltingly start to come together under the charm not just of the island but of the concept of the extended family itself. It’s certainly didn’t warrant a packed auditorium, but equally it deserved more than just the two of us.