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Thursday
Jun042009

My Life in Ruins

My Life in Ruins. If you're anything like me, you're asking, "What the hell is that?" Before last week, I was unaware this movie even existed, assuming it got lost in the wake of the big budget summer blockbusters. Besides, what place does a low key romantic comedy have in a cavalcade of action flicks anyway? But lo and behold, here one comes resting comfortably on my schedule of movies to see and whaddya know? It's pretty damn good.

My Life in Ruins first introduces us to Georgia (Nia Vardalos), an employee of Pangloss Tours, a tour company that takes a bus full of tourists and shows them the wonders of Greece for about a week, exploring during the day and resting in a hotel at night. As the double entendre title implies, Georgia seems to spend her life in the ruins of ancient Greece, attempting to teach snobby tourists who have no desire to learn about the wonders of their surroundings. Her life is also, metaphorically, in ruins. She hates her job, performing the same mundane routine day after day and it is beginning to become too much for her. She's falling apart, but when a new group shows up for what she thinks will be her last tour, all of that changes thanks to Irv (Richard Dreyfuss), a timeworn widower who points her down the right path.

Like a dense fog, this movie is thickened with so many clichés that it's sometimes hard to see past them. It's a rudimentary exercise in filmmaking, derivative of other, better films. There are some ridiculous scenes of Georgia's love interest, Poupi (Alexis Georgoulis), including the play-guitar-down-by-the-river scene and the obligatory slow motion, wet and shirtless shot, accompanied by a quick flick of the hair, among others. It's about as clichéd as cliché can get, but these can easily be looked past when the film is as charming as it is. For all of its mistakes, My Life in Ruins is packed to the brim with heart, something direly missing in many a movie these days.

Much of the allure of the film comes from Richard Dreyfuss who is just delightful as the old, grieving widower who quotes words of wisdom and helps Georgia through her difficulties. The wonders of his character come from the life he's led that, unfortunately, we don't get to see. He is aged, in declining health and he's been through the wringer. He knows what it's like to struggle, learning how it feels to have loved and lost. As he says in the movie, he woke up every day for 28 years smiling because he woke up next to his wife. He takes his infinite wisdom, much like an elderly grandfather, and passes it on to Georgia, taking her up almost as one of his children, caring for her and wishing for her nothing but happiness. Sure, this type of stock character has been used in many films, but Dreyfuss puts a nice comedic spin on him and makes an otherwise generic personality into something much more.

Unexpectedly, the movie is actually quite funny and you'll be taken aback by the surprising amount of humor it, although not every gag hits its mark. There is a recurring joke about one of the passengers, a kleptomaniac who steals something at every opportunity. The problem is that it isn't funny the first time you see her do it, much less the other 15 times. If anything, it reminds you how flawed people are. The great thing about this film is that it's an escape. It takes you away from real life for an hour and a half and lets you spend time with this genuinely fun and likable (albeit unrealistic) group of people. This character just didn't seem to fit in with the rest of the bunch.

The main love affair between Georgia and Poupi feels exhausted as well, never working the way the film hopes. Poupi rarely talks and the two barely spend any time with each other before reaching that romantic spark, so the whole ordeal feels out of place and misguided. More time with these two was necessary to create a competent love story.

My Life in Ruins is sometimes redundant, frequently cheesy and a little overbearing in its sappiness, but for what it's worth, it always redeems itself almost immediately by landing a funny joke. What can I say? The cheesiness won me over. I cared about these characters by the end of the movie and I wanted to see them happy. It may be one of the most unoriginal films to be released in recent memory, but some strong performances, natural charm and seriously funny jokes make this one work. My Life in Ruins is recycled entertainment, but you'll be having too much fun to care.

My Life in Ruins receives 3.5/5

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