There's an episode of The Larry Sanders Show in which Phil, the head writer, sells a pilot for a sitcom about an indie band in Seattle. By the time the producers finish with the script, it has become a vehicle for Dave Chappelle, and it's about a hip-hop group in Detroit. I thought about this when watching My Life in Ruins. Talented Simpsons writer Mike Reiss wrote the original screenplay, which is based on his travel experiences. Nia Vardalos, creator and star of the 2002 sleeper hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding, refashioned it as a vehicle for herself. The result, directed by Donald Petrie (Miss Congeniality), is a pallid romantic comedy that tries to recapture Big Fat Greek's magic, but without its humor or charm.
The formula is similar: Vardalos plays an introverted Greek-American woman dealing with the exasperating eccentricities of her compatriots while looking for love. Here she plays Georgia, a laid-off college professor working for a shoddy tour company in Greece. She's their least popular tour guide, boring travelers with history lectures when they'd rather be shopping for tacky souvenirs and eating ice cream. Georgia is, in the parlance of the 1970s and this movie, "uptight" — unable to loosen up and needing more sex, as pointed out by her long-haired, bearded bus driver (Alexis Georgoulis), hilariously named "Poupi."
You needn't be psychic to know that by movie's end, Georgia will let her hair down. The movie pokes mirthless fun at tourists and the Greeks' carefree "Zorba" temperament. Fortunately, Georgia's motley group includes a magical retiree played by Richard Dreyfuss, who helps her find her kefi (spirit). But Vardalos' character is remarkably bland and subdued, so her transformation and nascent romance hold little interest. The film offers rare views of the Acropolis, Delphi and Olympia. But its travelogue appeal is diminished by the silliness of Vardalos' script. I wish I could have seen the movie Mike Reiss had in mind.