Immerse yourself in this sunny, uplifting romantic comedy starring Oscar® nominee* Nia Vardalos and Academy Award® winner** Richard Dreyfuss.
Vardalos delivers a charming performance as Georgia, a recently laid-off — though anything but laid-back — history professor-turned-travel guide to a motley crew of hilariously crass tourists. Georgia is fed up and ready to give up — until her new confidant Irv (Dreyfuss) opens her eyes and heart to a simple fact: There’s no finer way for a woman to find her kefi (a.k.a. mojo) than to lose herself in the arms of the “Greek god” (Alexis Georgoulis) who’s been hiding right under her nose!
What is it with Nia Vardalos? Can she only make films that focus on Greece or Greek culture? Yes, 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' was a phenomenal hit, but lightning rarely strikes twice, so one would hope Vardalos would think twice before committing to another Greek-themed project – especially one as flimsy and trite as 'My Life in Ruins.' Apparently, though, she didn't, and plunged headlong into this sloppy, exaggerated farce. While I understand the actress' desire to celebrate her heritage and expose audiences to Greece's breathtaking beauty, venerable landmarks, and charming quirks, she's not doing her career any favors by exclusively linking herself to one locale. Then again, without Greece, would Vardalos have any career at all?
Georgia (Vardalos) is a starry-eyed intellectual blinded by the allure of Greece's ancient architecture, history, and civilization. She comes to Athens to teach at a university, but when cutbacks force the elimination of her position, she takes a job with a second-rate tour outfit, carting around rude, whiny, disinterested travelers who care more about souvenir shopping and ice cream snacks than exploring and learning about the country's wondrous sites. On one particularly hellish tour, a host of misadventures befalls the group, but despite the internal strife, the motley crew eventually bands together, and the browbeaten, frustrated Georgia, who "hasn't had sex in forever," finally lets her hair down when she enters into an unlikely union with Poupi (Alexis Georgoulis), the taciturn native driver who pilots the bus.
Donald Petrie's film could be retitled 'How Georgia Got Her Groove Back,' and though it markets itself as a romantic comedy, there's surprisingly little romance in Mike Reiss' script. A 20-year veteran of 'The Simpsons,' Reiss seems ill-at-ease with flesh-and-blood characters and injects too much cartoon lunacy into his hit-and-miss screenplay. (I almost expected to see Homer, Marge, and Bart make a cameo appearance - which, come to think of it, might not have been a bad idea.) Though each role is designed to be a blatant caricature, Reiss often takes the parody too far, and as portrayed by 'SNL' alum Rachel Dratch and others, the various tourists never develop beyond cardboard stereotypes. Only Richard Dreyfuss as a crass-jokester-on-the-outside-melancholic-widower-on-the-inside brings any depth to the table. Why he's slumming in a debacle like this remains a mystery, but his classy presence is one of the film's few bright spots.
Make no mistake, Vardalos exudes charm and effervescence as Georgia, even during her most exasperated moments, but her personality isn't quite strong enough to carry a film. And her relationship with the hunky Georgoulis never feels like anything more than a manufactured plot device. The two possess little chemistry, and without any combustible sparks, the film's house-of-cards framework collapses.
'My Life in Ruins' contains several funny lines, but none provoke anything more than a mild chuckle. The script spends way too much time on the tourists and their problems and complaints, and it's not until about halfway through that any romance develops. And once it does, no conflict or obstacles stand in the path of the lovers' happiness. The story proceeds in a very predictable way, and there's little visual style to spice up the action. Petrie does provide plenty of picture-postcard shots of Athens and the Greek coast, but only diehard armchair travelers will be willing to sit through this vapid voyage to view them.
Bus tours have never interested me, but after seeing 'My Life in Ruins,' I will surely avoid them like the plague. And this romantic travelogue should best be avoided as well.
A travelogue picture requires a first-rate transfer to provoke the appropriate ooohs and aaahs, and 'My Life in Ruins' complies with an excellent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 effort. The source material is as clean as a whistle, with no specks or stray marks diluting the scenic impact of coastal vistas, aerial shots, or the iconic Parthenon. Clarity remains solid throughout, but light grain maintains the look and feel of celluloid. Warm, true colors punch up the image, adding vibrancy to various locations, and the wide-ranging fleshtones always look natural.
Both close-ups and wide shots exhibit a good amount of fine detail, and textures, on the whole, are aptly represented. Night scenes possess solid black levels and good shadow delineation, without any annoying instances of crush. Banding, mosquito noise, and macroblocking are absent, too, and no digital enhancements, such as edge sharpening or noise reduction, have been applied.
All in all, this is a good-looking transfer that equally showcases both the splendor and roughness that is Greece.
Romantic comedies rarely take full advantage of the power and multi-channel capabilities of DTS-HD Master Audio, but the 5.1 track here nevertheless supplies a steady stream of crisp, clear sound. Though the rears remain silent most of the time, some faint ambience can be detected during exterior scenes. Front channel separation is limited, too, but dialogue is well prioritized and always easy to understand despite the various foreign accents. David Newman's music score enjoys fine presence and depth, and nicely fills the soundscape without feeling bombastic. And while bass frequencies are practically nonexistent, a roadside mishap supplies a mild rumble.
This track certainly won't cause anyone to prick up their ears, but it handles what the film throws at it with aplomb.
The disc doesn't provide much in the way of worthwhile supplements, but such standard fare as commentary tracks, deleted scenes, and trailers are included.
Writer Mike Reiss works his commentary like a stand-up comedy routine, and as a result, it's the most entertaining of the bunch. His manic energy and irreverent attitude perk up the proceedings, and because the film is largely based on his own experiences (and was not – contrary to popular belief – created as a quasi-sequel to 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding'), it seems to have more gravitas than the other commentaries, despite the goofiness. Reiss goes off on some wild tangents (his random rant about Honduras is hysterical), but at about the one-hour-seven-minute mark, he runs out of steam…and material, so he begins talking about 'The Simpsons' and makes up a story about how he became a writer in the third grade. Then he abruptly cuts his talk short. If only Vardalos and Petrie had the good sense to do the same…
'My Life in Ruins' isn't exactly a film in ruins, but it's close. Like the tour bus that transports the characters, this predictable, undistinguished Nia Vardalos vehicle sputters and stalls throughout, and can't shake the feel of a sitcom pilot the network didn't pick up. Greece, however, shines, thanks to an above average video transfer, but the disc's audio and supplements are decidedly run-of-the-mill. Obsessive fans of romantic comedies and travel pictures might find a rental painless enough, but discriminating viewers should steer clear of this big fat Greek mess.