Thursday, June 4, 2009

Review: "My Life in Ruins"

"My Life in Ruins" is basically Nia Vardalos' sequel to "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" -- if the marriage went south, and she packed up her bags for Greece to hide out from life.

"Ruins" picks up all the same vibes about opening yourself up to romance, seeing oneself as part of a community rather than just individuals, and taking time to drink some wine and maybe dance a little.

The humor, like the sentiment, isn't very sophisticated, but it's genuinely heartfelt.

Vardalos -- who hasn't appeared in much since "Greek Wedding" seven years ago -- is a naturally charismatic screen presence. Looking amazingly fresh and lovely, she exudes a hectored, smart-girl charm that makes an audience root for her -- even when some of the jokes coming out of her mouth are a bit hackneyed.

Here she plays Georgia, an American who came to Greece to teach history at a university, but lost her job and is now consigned to working for Pangloss Tours, a third-rate tour guide company.

Her long-winded recitations of facts about ancient ruins feel more like a history lecture than a vacation, so Georgia's battling for her job against a smooth-talking local who knows how to charm the charmless tourists. It doesn't help that she gets stuck with the crappy old bus with busted AC, and a replacement driver named Poupi (Alexis Georgoulis) who's hairier than a werewolf, and less verbose.

Her group is a predictably diverse rabble. There's the elderly lady who's a kleptomaniac; a pair of Spanish divorcees looking for love, or at least a quick substitute; an annoying American couple (the undervalued Rachel Dratch plays the female half); an oafish Florida boy named Gator; a workaholic restaurant chain executive; and a British couple inching toward divorce with their glum 16-year-old daughter in tow, who only takes out her iPod earbuds long enough to comment on how much everything sucks.

The self-appointed leader of the group is Irv (Richard Dreyfuss), an impish retiree who likes to tell bad jokes and dispense a little wisdom on the side. His mission seems to be to convince Georgia to loosen up, ladle a little sex in with the history, and point her in the direction of Poupi, who grows less hirsute as the film goes on, like one of those Evolution of Man illustrations.

"My Life in Ruins" doesn't stand up to a lot of serious analysis -- Vardalos' character doesn't come with much of a backstory, so one craves to know what made her chuck her life in the States for her current sun-kissed purgatory.

But this is the sort of movie that's more about spreading warm feelings than dispensing intellectual nourishment, much as Georgia learns for herself. It's a cinematic sticky bun, and just charming enough to make us want to sit back and let them ladle on the gooey stuff.

2.5 stars out of four

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