Saturday, February 28, 2009

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is another in a long history of wedding comedies that understand the significance of food. Like many Mediterranean cultures, Greek life centers around food and family, and sometimes it’s difficult to figure out which comes first. While putting family life and conflict squarely center stage, this film does not neglect the foods that are such a central feature of Greek life. The Portokalos family operates—what else?—a Greek diner called Dancing Zorba’s. Toula’s mother sends her kids to school with moussaka (a minced meat pie with tomatoes and eggplant) in their lunch bags. When meeting the parents of Toula’s fiancé for the first time, Maria Portokalos serves spanakopita (pie with spinach, feta cheese, onion, eggs, and seasonings) and lamb roasted on a spit, even though the guests are the stereotypical WASP family and not prepared for the effusiveness of their Greek in-laws-to-be. As one might glean from these examples, these Greeks like to feed people—in fact, it’s a point of hospitality with them to make sure that no guest has an empty plate and that no one goes home hungry!

Toula: My mom was always cooking foods filled with warmth and wisdom…and never forgetting that side dish of steaming-hot guilt.
Maria Portokalos: Niko, don't play with the food. When I was your age, we didn't have food.

Aunt Voula: When you come to my house and I cook for you?
Toula: Thia, that might be a problem.
Aunt Voula: Problem? I’m the best cook in the family. Tell him.
Toula: I did, didn’t I?
Ian: Twice.
Aunt Voula: OK, then.
Toula: It’s just…
Aunt Voula: Yeah?
Toula: Ian is a vegetarian. He doesn’t eat meat.
Aunt Voula: He don’t eat no meat?
Toula: No, he doesn’t eat meat.
Aunt Voula: What do you mean, “He don’t eat no meat”? [the entire room suddenly goes silent, in shock] That's OK, I’ll make lamb. Come.

Gus Portokalos: I was thinking last night … the night before my daughter was going to marry Ian Miller … that the root of the word “miller” is a Greek word. And “miller” come from the Greek word milo, which is mean "apple." There you go. As many of you know, our name Portokalos is come from the Greek word portokali, which means "orange." So, okay here tonight, we have apple and orange. We all different but, in the end, we all fruit.

Maria Portokalos: Ian, are you hungry?
Ian Miller: No, I already ate.
Maria Portokalos: Okay, I make you something.

Fun Fact:
Nia Vardalos originally developed the concept for this film as her own one-woman stage show.

Released August 2, 2002
Directed by Joel Zwick
Written by Nia Vardalos

Starring Nia Vardalos as Toula Portokalos, Michael Constantine as Gus Portokalos, Lainie Kazan as Maria Portokalos, John Corbett as Ian Miller, Andrea Martin as Aunt Voula, Louis Mandylor as Nick Portokalos, Gia Carides as Cousin Nikki, Joey Fatone as Angelo, and Ian Gomez as Mike
Awards: 2003 Grand Prix Alpe d’Huez International Comedy Film Festival (Joel Zwick); 2003 Discover Screenwriting Award American Screenwriters Association, USA (Nia Vardalos); 2003 BMI Film Music Award (Alexander Janko and Chris Wilson); 2003 Canadian Comedy Award for Film—Pretty Funny Female Performance (Vardalos); 2003 Russell Smith Award from Dallas-Fort Worth Critics Association (Zwick); 2003 Hollywood Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild Award for Best Contemporary Makeup—Feature (Ann Brodie); 2003 Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut Performance (Vardalos); 2003 Visionary Award from PGA (Rita Wilson); 2003 People’s Choice Award for Favorite Comedy Motion Picture; 2003 Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for Best Newcomer (Vardalos); 2003 Golden Satellite Award for Best Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical, and Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, Comedy or Musical (Michael Constantine); 2003 Audience Award for Comedy Film of the Year and 2003 Comedy Film Honor for Best Independent Comedy Film from U.S. Comedy Arts Festival; and 2002 Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Award for Best Screenplay (Vardalos)

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Dinner Game

Pignon: Sometimes I feel you think I’m an idiot.

The Dinner Game is a laugh-out-loud comedy in which the haughty practical jokester brings about his own ruin. The “dinner” in the film’s title refers to the weekly gathering of a group of friends who invite the stupidest men they can find as companions, mock them during the course of the evening, and then vote to determine who brought the biggest idiot that week. However, the table is turned when one of the key players, Brochant (Lhermitte), throws out his back and must spend the evening in the company of his “idiot,” Pignon (Villeret), a tax auditor who constructs architectural models out of matchsticks. Pignon’s every effort to help Brochant, a wealthy publisher, leads to one catastrophe after another—“He drives your wife into adultery and you into a tax audit. What a feat!”—mistaking Brochant’s wife for his mistress, revealing Brochant’s tax evasions to the city’s leading tax auditor, and further injuring Brochant’s back along with his pride. The only food shown in this French farce is an omelet with fines herbes, along with a vintage bottle of wine deliberately ruined by the addition of vinegar, but it nevertheless provides a full menu of hilarious scenes.

Released (U.S.A.) June 25, 1999
Directed by Francis Veber
Written by Francis Veber and Andy Borowitz
Starring Thierry Lhermitte as Pierre Brochant, Jacques Villeret as François Pignon, Francis Huster as Juste Leblanc, Daniel Prévost as Lucien Cheval, Alexandra Vandernoot as Christine Brochant, and Catherine Frot as Marlène Sasseur
Awards: 1999 César Awards for Best Actor (Villeret), Best Supporting Actor (Prévost), and Best Writing (Veber); 1999 Lumiere Award for Best Actor (Villeret) and Best Screenplay (Veber)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Tom Jones

Miss Western: You are such a boor.
Squire Western: A boar? I am no boar!

Though not known as a food film, Tom Jones does have a quite memorable dinner scene, which serves as a quite arousing bout of sexual foreplay for Jones (Finney) and Waters (Redman). Beginning with soup, bread, and beer, they proceed to lobster, chicken, beef, and oysters, consumed with the most suggestive gestures and facial expressions, including the splitting of the chicken’s “wish bone” with their pinkies. The completion of the meal—consumption of pears in a most indelicate manner, and a wine toasting with arms entwined—is merely the prelude to what the viewer can only imagine as an entertaining and sexually gratifying romp in Mrs. Waters’ bed upstairs.

Released October 6, 1963
Directed by Tony Richardson
Written by John Osborne, based on the novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding
Starring Albert Finney as Tom Jones, Susannah York as Sophie Western, Lynn Redgrave as Susan, Hugh Griffith as Squire Western, Edith Evans as Miss Western, Joan Greenwood as Lady Bellaston, Diane Cilento as Molly Seagrim, George Devine as Squire Allworthy, Joyce Redman as Mrs. Waters, David Warner as Mr. Blifil, and David Tomlinson as Lord Fellamar
Awards: 1964 Academy Awards for Best Director (Richardson), Best Music, Score (John Addison), Best Picture (Richardson), and Best Writing (Osborne); 1964 BAFTA Film Award for Best British Film, Best British Screenplay, and Best Film from Any Source; 1964 Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures; 1964 Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Musical/Comedy and Most Promising Male Newcomer (Finney); 1964 Grammy Award for Best Original Score from a Motion Picture or Television Show; 1964 Laurel Award for Top Comedy; 1963 National Board of Review, USA Award for Best Director and Best Film, English Language; 1963 New York Film Critics Circle Awards for Best Actor (Finney), Best Director, and Best Film; 1963 Venice Film Festival Volpi Cup for Best Actor (Finney); 1964 Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Award for Best British Comedy Screenplay

Fun Facts
The director allowed Finney and Redman to improvise much of the dinner scene; given the gusto with which they consumed so much food, it’s not surprising that they suffered digestively for days afterward.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Breakfast Club

John Bender: [pointing to Claire's lunch] What's that?
Claire Standish: Sushi.
John Bender: Sushi?
Claire Standish: Rice, raw fish, and seaweed.
John Bender: You won't accept a guy's tongue in your mouth, and you're going to eat that?
Claire Standish: Can I eat?
John Bender: I don't know. Give it a try.

Contrary to expectations, The Breakfast Club is not about a group that meets for breakfast, nor does it feature any breakfast food. It is about five high school kids who are assigned to detention in the school library one Saturday. The students are a motley crew, and over the course of the day they become acquainted by sharing their stories, manipulating the detention monitor, and commenting on the contents of one another’s lunches: Claire, the rich kid, lays out sushi with soy sauce; Andy, the wrestler, unpacks three sandwiches, potato chips, milk, a banana, an apple, and chocolate cookies; Brian, the geek, feasts on soup, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and apple juice; Allison, the freak, makes a “sandwich” of Cap’n Crunch cereal topped with Pixie Stix; and John, the “bad boy,” has nothing. Such a menu begs the question “Are we really what we eat?” – or do we, perhaps, eat what we already are.

John Bender: Well, Brian, this is a very nutritious lunch. All the food groups are represented. Did your mom marry Mr. Rogers?
Brian Johnson: Uh, no. Mr. Johnson.

Released February 15, 1985
Written and directed by John Hughes
Starring Molly Ringwald as Claire Standish, Emilio Estevez as Andrew Clark, Anthony Michael Hall as Brian Johnson, Ally Sheedy as Allison Reynolds, Judd Nelson as John Bender, Paul Gleason as Richard Vernon, and John Kapelos as Carl

Fun Fact:
“The Breakfast Club” was the name of one of the longest-running radio shows in U.S. history, broadcast in Chicago from 1933 to 1968. It was, perhaps, the inspiration for the nickname of the group of students assigned to detention at Chicagoland’s New Trier High School, attended by the son of one of John Hughes’ friends.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Birdcage

Armand: Pull yourself together!
Agador: Why?
Armand: Because you have to start cooking dinner, OK?…. [Exits]

Val: Can you ... you can cook, right?
Agador: Your father seems to think so.

The Birdcage doesn’t feature much in the way of food—some toast and butter, a cup of coffee, a catch-all stew—but it does have that infamous dinner scene with naked Greek boys playing in the soup bowls! To be clear: when Armand (Williams), Albert (Lane), and Val (Futterman) sit down to dinner with their future in-laws the Keeleys (Hackman, Wiest, and Flockhart), the table is set with what is probably very expensive china, of a “pattern” portraying nude young men at play, in scenes reminiscent of the decorations on ancient Greek pottery. Neither the viewer nor the guests ever really get to see the young Greeks—by the time the Keeleys find their reading glasses, Armand has filled the bowls with Agador’s (Azaria) Guatemalan peasant soup (though without the shrimps). Both the spiciness of the soup and the hosts’ desire to disguise their identity as a gay couple drive the diners from the table before they can even empty their bowls—or glimpse the gaiety of their Greek table companions.

Louise Keeley: What interesting china! Why, it looks like young men playing leapfrog. Is it Greek?
Albert: (squeals) I … I … I have no idea. I’ve never seen these bowls before….
Senator Keeley: It is Greek. Greek boys, actually. Uh, naked Greek boys.
Albert: And girls. Don’t you have any girls on your bowl
Val: I have one.
Albert: So do I! Oh, look! Senator Keeley, there. I think that’s a girl.
Senator Keeley: Then it’s been a long time since you’ve seen one. That’s a boy. I may need glasses, but I can see that.

Fun Facts:
When Armand (Williams) is trying to teach Albert (Lane) how to comport himself in a more masculine manor, they practice buttering a piece of toast—and Albert shrieks when he presses too hard and breaks the toast in pieces. The hilarious scene caused director Mike Nichols to laugh so loudly that he had to be covered with a sound blanket in order for filming to continue.

Armand: What the hell is this?
Agador: Sweet-and-sour peasant soup. Why’d you say it was seafood chowder?
Armand: What the hell is that?
Agador: I don't know, I made it up! I made it up!

Released March 8, 1966
Directed by Mike Nichols
Play La Cage Aux Folles by Jean Poiret; earlier screenplay by Francis Veber, Edouard Molinaro, Marcello Danon, and Jean Poiret; screenplay by Elaine May
Starring Robin Williams as Armand Goldman, Nathan Lane as Albert Goldman, Hank Azaria as Agador, Gene Hackman as Senator Kevin Keeley, Dianne Wiest as Louise Keeley, Dan Futterman as Val Goldman, Calista Flockhart as Barbara Keeley, Christine Baranski as Katherine Archer, and Tom McGowan as Harry Radman
Awards: 1997 American Comedy Awards for Funniest Actor in a Motion Picture (Leading Role) for Nathan Lane and Funniest Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture for Dianne Wiest; 1997 Blockbuster Entertainment Awards for Favorite Supporting Actor-Comedy for Gene Hackman and Favorite Supporting Actress-Comedy for Dianne Wiest; 1997 Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast (Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Nathan Lane, Dianne Wiest, Hank Azaria, Christine Baranski, Dan Futterman)

If you look closely during the dinner scene, you can catch a really quick glimpse of the Greek boys before Armand covers the illustration with the soup. The scene portrayed on the bowls is quite explicit, in a homoerotic way. But finding a photo of the bowls has proven impossible. To get an idea of the type of scene covered over, take a look at these reproductions of ancient Greek pottery: