Film Review: My Life in Ruins

Bland but sweet-as-baklava comedy about a sourpuss American tour guide in Greece. Easy-to-please audiences of a certain age and heritage may welcome its simplicity in these trying times.

At least My Life in Ruins boasts a fairly clever title, considering its subject of a Greek-born American tour guide struggling in a job from hell as her loveless, aimless life grows grimmer. Nia Vardalos, whose breakthrough came with the indie hit stunner My Big Fat Greek Wedding, again carries her lead role, but this vehicle feels far more manufactured and forced.

On the plus side in this broad-as-the-Mediterranean comedy are the magnificent Greek scenery and determined upbeat tone, also fueled (or hammered into cliché) by familiar references to such cinematic Greco-relics as Zorba the Greek and Never on Sunday.

Vardalos is Georgia, an Athens-based guide who conducts tours of the country for largely unpleasant tourists and battles competition on the beat with Nico (Alistair McGowan), an obnoxiously overconfident Greek guide. You’ve met Georgia’s latest gaggle of tourists before. There are the drinking Australians, the fussbudget Brits, the nice Canadians who melt into the scenery, the hot, divorced Spanish ladies, and those loud, stupid or boring Americans. A lone Yank exception is Irv (Richard Dreyfuss), a grieving widower who experiences visions of his late wife (Rita Wilson), but who, wise as his years, dispenses good advice of which Georgia is benefactor.

As her busload glides from one magnificent ruin to another (the Acropolis, Parthenon, etc.), with stopovers at dreary hotels, Georgia slowly warms up to handsome bus driver Poupi (Alexis Georgoulis). As she gets her mojo (“kefi” in Greek) back—that amorphous combination of a zest for life and embrace of the passionate side—even her tourist crew grows more endearing.

Director Donald Petrie, with many other middle-of-the-road itineraries behind him (Grumpy Old Men, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days), and screenwriter Mike Reiss also throw in some young love (a Brit teen gets hooked up with a handsome Greek youth), a gratuitous jab at gays, a little-old-lady serial shoplifter, and the de rigueur comeuppance Georgia enjoys over rival Nico.

Kilometers away in quality from similarly themed, female-skewed films like the classic Summertime, the quickie fun tour of If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium, or recent delight Under the Tuscan Sun, My Life in Ruins is sometimes as sunny as its locations but as familiar and predictable as a Greek diner.