- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Fox Searchlight
Reviewed by David Medsker
t’s easy to point out what’s wrong with “My Life in Ruins,” but I don’t feel good about it. The movie clearly has its heart in the right place, which makes sense considering screenwriter Mike Reiss wrote some of the most heartfelt “Simpsons” episodes ever. The problem is that his script paints with such a broad brush that it’s hard to get emotionally involved in a story that bears little resemblance to reality – which in itself is not unforgivable, but doesn’t work here – and goes out of its way to manufacture conflict.
The story is set in Greece, and Georgia (Nia Vardalos) is a walking encyclopedia of history, slumming as a “B group” tour guide. Her tourists dislike her because she actually tries to teach them something, instead of taking them to the gift shop and the local American chain restaurant. Her latest group of travelers is no different, and Georgia vows that this trip will be her last, especially after seeing the luxurious accommodations that her “A group” coworker, the sleazy Nico (Alistair McGowan), is allowed to provide his group. When she accidentally hits “funny guy” Irv (Richard Dreyfuss) where it hurts, she tries to give her customers a more enjoyable trip, but to do so, she must find her passion for life, which has long lain dormant. Will the mysterious replacement bus driver Poupi (Alexis Georgoulis, the Greek version of Gael Garcia Bernal) be the one to help her find it?
Well, duh, and that’s the movie’s problem; nearly everything about it is either a big ‘duh’ or a big WTF. Ever seen a group of tourists introduce themselves to the guide as they board the bus? Neither have I, but they do it here, solely for the benefit of the audience. (How else would we know their names and which stereotype they represent?) Likewise, tour guides don’t go off route and let their customers dictate the day’s itinerary, but remember, very little of this movie is grounded in reality. Even the gay jokes are of the WTF variety. How is it that gay characters in movies have no gaydar?
Give credit to Vardalos, then, for not giving in to the insanity around her. She gives this movie everything she has and nearly saves it in the process, but unfortunately can’t overcome the stock characters that surround her. The movie thinks it’s being clever by acknowledging these stock characters up front when Georgia jokes about each of her groups having Ugly Americans, Drunk Australians, Bitter Divorcees, and the aforementioned Funny Guy, but a better idea would have been to let these characters inhabit those traits while developing personalities of their own. Lord knows Mike Reiss is capable of bringing the funny with a healthy dose of nuance, and distributor Fox Searchlight is not known for meddling with quirky scripts (“Juno,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Slumdog Millionaire”). So what gives?
You can’t help but think that Fox Searchlight looked at “My Life in Ruins” as little more than a nifty slice of counterprogramming to the testosteronefest that is “The Hangover” and “Land of the Lost.” (And, if Will Harris’ review of “Land of the Lost” is any indication, the makers of “Ruins” chose their weekend wisely.) But counterprogramming is only half the battle; you still have to make a good movie, and while “My Life in Ruins” has its good points, its heart does not make up for its lack of smarts. Sorry, Nia. Really, we are.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
The pickings here are unsurprisingly small, but give them credit for providing three separate audio commentaries from star Nia Vardalos, director, Donald Petrie, and screenwriter Mike Reiss. There are also a few deleted and extended scenes (including a bittersweet alternate ending), and a featurette called "Everybody Loves Poupi," a video love letter to beefcake Alexis Georgoulis. They also added some trailers, but we refuse to acknowledge those as bonus features.