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Plot: hapless gardener is seduced by a mother and her underage daughter

Not all Gloria Guida comedies are created equal. Just like Fernando di Leo’s Blue Jeans (1975) before it That Malicious Age is another of these rather bland melodramatic and slightly tragic coming-of-age commedia sexy all’italiana exercises that are part and parcel in Guida’s early-to-mid seventies repertoire. Like any of the titles preceding it That Malicious Age has a proclivity towards melodrama but that doesn’t stop it from featuring more than a copious amount of Guida in advanced state of undress and a handful of risqué situations that it could easily classify as a regular soft erotic romp. Is it one of Gloria Guida’s best outings? That’s entirely dependent entirely on what you come to these things for. What it does feature is enough Gloria Guida in the buff to satisfy anyone’s cravings.

Silvio Amadio was crazy about Gloria Guida. Perfectly understandable given how lovely la Guida was one of the prime Lolitas of the commedia sexy all’italiana. No, Amadio wasn’t just crazy about her. He was obsessed with her. He had filmed glorious Gloria earlier in the not entirely creatively stunted The Underage Girl (1974) and would do so again in So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious (1975). Unfortunately Guida didn’t reciprocitate his amorous feelings and Amadio descended into a self-destructive tailspin as a result. Gloria - whose shapely derrière was made a legend in its own right by Mario Imperoli’s Monika (1974) and Blue Jeans (1975) - was in a relationship with famed showman/crooner Johnny Dorelli and no on-set fling with a celebrated director was worth that risk. However Guida’s claim to cinematic immortality was to come in the form of Michele Massimo Tarantini’s La Liceale (1975) (released in North America as The Teasers) with Giuseppe Pambieri and a few years down the line with Fernando di Leo’s irreverent, subtextual and widely misunderstood satire To Be Twenty (1978) where la Guida was in company of fellow Lolita Lilli Carati, genre veteran Vittorio Caprioli and the late, great Ray Lovelock.

At behest of his high-strung (off-screen and uncredited) wife out-of-work painter Napoleone “Nino” Castellano (Nino Castelnuovo) takes up a gardening job at a summer mansion in the municipality of Portoferraio on the Mediterranean island of Elba on the Tuscan Archipelago. En route to the job interview Nino makes his acquaintance on a crowded bus with a stunning blue-eyed blonde who immediately starts flirting with him. Once at his destination he awkwardly bumbles his way through the job interview with the family matriarch (Anita Sanders), a bored socialite housewife, who instantly makes advances towards him. It is then that Nino finds out that the attractive girl he met on the bus earlier is his employer’s daughter Paola (Gloria Guida). Paola lives with her mother and absent stepfather and writer Adolfo (Andrea Aureli). As Nino settles into his new surroundings and starts to work around the house he is alternately pushed into compromising positions by the mother as well as the daughter. As the dance of seduction from mother and daughter alike intensifies things take a turn for the tragic for Nino when Paola spurs the advances of a Spanish fisherman (Mimmo Palmara) living in a nearby shack.

That Malicious Age is, of course, a tour de force for everybody’s favorite soon-to-be schoolgirl Gloria Guida. While rather demure compared to some of her other work That Malicious Age sees Anita Sanders in the habit of undressing in front of Nino for no particular reason. It has Guida’s Paola doing a sultry striptease in front of the window and her conveniently leaving the door to her room open whenever she undresses. A particularly suggestive scene has Paola giving Nino an implied footjob when the two of them are driving back from Portoferraio with the company of Paola’s blissfully unaware parents in the back. That Malicious Age concludes with its most memorable scene that sees Paola running around completely naked in Calenzano pinewoods. Since no Gloria Guida comedy or melodrama is complete without its share of tragedy her nude scene is a prelude to the movie’s downbeat conclusion. The entire thing is pervaded by tragedy as it truly is about the sheer dysfunctionality of the bourgeoisie. Nino finds himself martyred (his Christ pose when Paola falls into his arms drives the point home well enough) and ousted from the community after coming to nubile Paola’s rescue towards the very end.

The cast for That Malicious Age is an assortment of young new stars and respected elders in supporting roles. Nino Castelnuovo was a regular in comedy, drama and romance al through the sixties and seventies. His many credits include, among others, The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg (1964), Strip Nude For Your Killer (1975), La Collegiale (1975), Star Odyssey (1979), and The English Patient (1996). Anita Sanders was a former Swedish model of no visible talent that would retire from acting after That Malicious Age. Mimmo Palmara was a monument of the Golden Age of Italian cinema and a pillar in the peplum and spaghetti western genres. Palmera made appearances in, among many others, the Pietro Francisci pulp sword-and-sandal epic The Labors Of Hercules (1958) and its amiable sequel Hercules Unchained (1959), The Trojan Horse (1961), the Eurospy-fumetti curiosity Argoman, the Fantastic Superman (1967) and The Arena (1974).

Andrea Aureli was another monument of the Golden Age of Italian cinema and a regular in peplum, spaghetti western and poliziotteschi. His credits include diverse offerings as Paprika (1991), Adam and Eve Meet the Cannibals (1983), Lady Frankenstein (1971), Samoa, Queen of the Jungle (1968) and The Last Of the Vikings (1961). The most famous among the crew was director of photography Antonio Maccoppi who was a frequent collaborator of Amadio and lend his talents to Killer Nun (1979), Our Lady Of Lust (1972), So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious (1975), Nude For Satan (1974), The Underage Girl (1974), Secret Confessions in a Cloistered Convent (1972) and School of Erotic Enjoyment (1971) where Malisa Longo's breasts deserved a credit of their own.

Gloria Guida might not have been the cream of the crop of the commedia sexy all’Italiana as far as acting talent was concerned but her presence illuminated whatever production she found herself in. That Malicious Age isn’t especially funny or sizzling sexy although it never fails to find creative or far-fetched excuses to have Guida undress or lose articles of clothing. Nino Castelnuovo is an amiable leading man and his interactions with Anita Sanders and Gloria Guida are what make That Malicious Age work. It never aspires to the same creative heights as The Underage Girl (1974) and seems content to dwell in the same general sphere as Mario Imperoli’s Monika (1974) and Blue Jeans (1975). There are enough shots of la Guida’s legendary derrière and the third act introduction of Paola’s boyfriend Franco (Mario Garriba) is too little too late to be of any meaning. The Mimmo Palmara subplot feels like an afterthought and the bittersweet conclusion only seems there to have the expected level of tragedy that apparently no Gloria Guida comedy is complete without. It’s competent and enjoyable enough, but Guida had yet to manifest actual acting talent in Fernando di Leo’s To Be Twenty (1978).

Plot: the Portokalos clan is called upon for another Big Fat Greek Wedding

Producing a sequel is always a risky proposition, even under the most optimal of circumstances. Writing a sequel a decade and a half after the original is all the moreso. Not only does the sequel face up against years of built up anticipation and towering expectations from the fanbase, it has to stay faithful to the original and has to interest the audience in the new story it plans on telling. Good sequels in and of themselves are rare enough. Belated sequels capturing the zeitgeist and spirit of the original are far and few. My Big Fat Greek Wedding was the surprise rom-com smash hit from 2002. It grossed $241.4 million in North America alone and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. It made Nia Vardalos a star overnight and spawned a short-lived TV spin-off called My Big Fat Greek Life (2003). It took Vardalos some 14 years to get a sequel in production. Not that anybody was expecting a sequel in the first place and it's not as if Vardalos has branched out in the interim with the rom-coms My Life In Ruins (2009) and I Hate Valentine’s Day (2009). My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is more of the same and while that’s not necessarily bad, was there really any need for this?

It’s been 14 years since Fotoula “Toula” Portakalos (Nia Vardalos) married Ian Miller (John Corbett). The recession has hit everybody hard and Toula is once again busting tables in Dancing Zorba’s, the family restaurant and gathering place for the entire clan, after the travel agency was forced to close doors. Miller is the dean of the local high school. The two have an adolescent daughter named Paris (Elena Kampouris), a fiercely intelligent and independent young woman tired of her parents’ overbearing attention, who’s college-bound and on the verge of leaving the nest. Paris is slightly irritated that there isn’t a moment where she can escape her parents, either in school or at home. Paris wants nothing more than to build her own life and pursue her own interests. Somehow this all sounds very familiar...

Going through his papers one day Costas or Gus (Michael Constantine) makes a startling discovery. 50 years ago when he and Maria (Lainie Kazan) emigrated to America to evade the war the officiating pastor never signed their marriage license. This prompts Maria to re-evaluate her station in life and sends Gus spiraling into depression. Paris meanwhile has been harboring a crush on Bennett (Alex Wolff). As the Portokalos clan rushes to repair the rusty relationship of Gus and Maria they convince the pair to renew their vows and finally make the marriage official once and for all. It just so happens that Paris’ prom night is happening the same night as her grandparents’ marriage. Who will she chose? Will she chose her family over her boyfriend and will everything in the Portakalos clan be alright?

To say that My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is light on plot would be something of an understatement. It does offer a rather interesting change of family dynamics compared to the original. In My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) Toula was the black sheep of her proud traditional Greek family, being 30 and single. The crux of the original was Toula defying the expectations of her Greek family and marrying a “xeno”, an American. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 interestingly sees Vardalos identifying more with the marital difficulties of Gus and Maria than with Paris’ longing for independence. Paris after all is what Toula was in the original. The shift in focus isn’t entirely unexpected or to the movie’s overall detriment. As Toula and Ian grow older they start to resemble Gus and Maria more than they’re likely to admit. A person is the product of his/her upbringing. Daughters become mothers whose daughters rebel against their mothers like their mothers did against theirs. It would have been wonderful to have seen exactly that as the A-plot but instead we get the sometimes comedic and well-intended intervention as the Portakalos clan joins forces to save the marriage of family patriarch and matriarch. Vardalos was always all about feel-good and family and this screenplay of hers is no different.

Vardalos’ script is cluttered to say the least. It was bound to be. It was 14 years since the original and every beloved character has to get their moment. We wouldn't have expected anything else. Over the course of an economic and efficient 90 minutes there's always something happening. There’s always something happening, yet nothing ever happens. Ever. The union of Gus and Maria is never really in question and Paris’ own inner conflict, which you’d imagine to be the pulsing heart of this sequel, is resolved much in the fashion of a syndicated television show. Gus and Maria were one of the great charms of the original, yet My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 would have been better served had it been Paris' story. For some reason, it isn't. It’s rather about Toula and Ian coming to grips with parenthood and the sobering realities of married life, raising a daughter and working a full-time job setting in and shattering the romanticized ideal that the original hinged upon. Much of the humor is still derived from the clan’s cultural identity, their traditions and quirks. To drive the point home Vardalos recycles all of the original’s best gags and throws in a few new ones to boot. The greatest discovery of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is Elena Kampouris. She single-handedly is able to elevate her little subplot to something bigger and important than it really is or ought to be. No doubt Kampouris could be the next big thing if she chooses her project wisely.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) was terribly afraid to introduce any meaningful conflict and Vardalos’ screenplay for the sequel is pretty much cut from the same cloth. The Paris character would’ve been an excellent opportunity to comment on the generation gap between parents and children, how Paris is who Toula was in the original and how children turn into their parents without always realizing or acknowledging it. There is no conflict in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 because the status-quo is never really in question. The screenplay briefly toys with the idea of a person not falling in line with the romanticized American ideal of hetero-normative relations and having children, but it’s discarded almost as soon as it’s introduced. It at least is decent enough to throw a progressive bone in having a Portakalous finally coming out of the closet in front of the family, but Vardalos fails to capitalize on that important moment and it’s handwaved away mere moments later. Paris and her parents never come to a clash and the brief seperation of Gus and Maria only serves to bring them closer together. All's well that ends well. You wouldn’t expect anything else from something produced by Tom Hanks’ Playtone - the company responsible for the ABBA musical Mamma Mia! (2008) and its own belated sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018) – and Vardalos. If there’s anything to deduce from Vardalos’ oeuvre it’s her paralyzing fear of conflict.

The biggest bone that My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 throws its audience is an appearance by John Stamos. Stamos, of course, is famous for his turn as Greek heartthrob Jesse Katsopolis in Full House (1987-1995) and its reboot Fuller House (2016) – and has been setting female hearts and loins alight for pretty much as long as he’s been acting and producing. His subplot is of no narrative importance and his presence is merely to enhance the star-power and viability of the project. It’s good seeing the entire gang again and all the familiar faces are accounted for. Everybody’s tubbier, a bit more wrinkled but clearly everybody’s having a great time this second time round. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is formulaic, syrupy and saccharine in all the right ways. It will never go down the books as an important movie – or even a particular memorable one. It never aims to be anything but an enjoyable popcorn flick, ideal to spent an evening or kill 90 minutes. Nia Vardalos rightly deserves credit for making this sequel as enjoyable as it is. Unlike many others she isn’t stuck in Hallmark or Lifetime Movies television hell – and that’s certainly an accomplishment considering how she became famous in the first place.

If there’s any reason that My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 works as well it does is because it pushes the same buttons and plays on the same sentiments as the original. The original has become enshrined as a rom-com classic and the sequel has no pretensions other than being an expansion on the original. If there are going to be more sequels after this it’s high time for Michael Constantine and Lainie Kazan to retire and put the focus on the relation between Paris and her parents Toula and Ian. In fact a third installment, in say five to ten years from now, could focus on Paris getting her own Big Fat Greek Wedding and how she has to deal with her traditional, overbearing parents. It would serve as a good closure to the franchise, having come full circle. There’s certainly no immediate need for a My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 but knowing full well how Hollywood operates there’s always the spectre of possibility looming at the horizon. It will be interesting to see where Nia Vardalos moves from here. The My Big Fat Greek Wedding franchise and brand is her brainchild and we’re interested to see what project she decides to tackle next. Worst case scenario is that in another ten or so years there’ll indeed be a My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3. Now is as good a time as any to stop with these Greek Weddings.