by HELEN GEIB
The heroine of the romantic-comedy My Life in Ruins is a tour guide for a cut-rate package tour company in Greece. Georgia (Nia Vardalos, My Big Fat Greek Wedding), an American of Greek descent who lives unhappily in Athens, is a classics scholar who has lost her university teaching position and sees her tourism-industry job as slumming. The bad attitude that makes her a lousy guide is on full display in an early scene of Georgia complaining to her boss that all tourists fall into readily identifiable categories, pretty nearly all of them obnoxious. Her diatribe doubles as an introduction of the members of the tour group and company bus driver who are the other main characters.
Mike Reiss, who has extensive credits in writing for television sitcoms, is responsible for the script. Reiss is an equal opportunity stereotyper: nationality, class, profession, marital status, age. Georgia’s verbal introduction of the film’s walking stereotypes may have been intended to disarm criticism, or perhaps I imagine that was one of its purposes only because I found the entire set-up so thoroughly awful. The audience is undoubtedly expected to find the scene funny; tell and show, double the laughs. Georgia’s character arc in which she discovers that tourists are real people too is handily undermined by the script. The characters are nothing more than the empty stereotypes Georgia sneers at; the occasional glimmer of humanity is quickly snuffed out by the weight of tired cliche.
Another principal source of “comedy” in the film is vulgar sexual humor. Viagra jokes, old people having sex jokes, sleazy pick-up lines, mock stripteases, Greek names that sound dirty to English speakers, and getting lucky jokes are the order of the day. Dedicated classicist Georgia getting her groove on (in the film’s Greek parlance, finding her kefi) by discovering that it’s a wonderful thing to titillate ignorant foreign tourists with sex stories about the ancient Athenians is unintentionally depressing. While there are a few funny non-sex jokes scattered through the film, the comedic promise of the witty title is unfulfilled.
Georgia’s romantic interest, the Greek bus driver, walked into the movie from the pages of a Harlequin romance. Actor Alexis Georgoulis is undeniably a hunk and he has a sexy accent. Unfortunately his character is completely unbelievable as a real human being.
Donald Petrie’s direction has the visual flair of a travelogue. My Life in Ruins has many lovely picture-postcard views of Greece, but on the whole I would rather have watched an actual travelogue.