sun 05/12/2021

Film: Driving Aphrodite | reviews, news & interviews

Film: Driving Aphrodite

Film: Driving Aphrodite

What's in a name? Ask Poupi

Staycationers who didn't make it to their favourite Greek isle this summer may constitute a ready-made audience for Driving Aphrodite, the travelogue masquerading as a film that has opened just in time to tap into a collective desire for sun, sand, and the odd drop of retsina just as the nights are beginning to draw in.

Others will merely roll their eyes at the predictability of it all, from the boorish stereotypes of Mike Reiss's script to the feel-good ending that lands our lovesick heroine, My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Nia Vardalos, in a big fat Greek clinch. (Oops, I gave it away, but c'mon: you were expecting otherwise?) Vardalos plays Georgia, an Athens-based expat American academic who leads desultory coach tours of the sites for sluggish and/or oafish slobs culled from society's itinerant dregs. You don't have to have seen Vardalos's previous film phenomenon to guess that Georgia's luck just has to change, even if most people by that point will be ready to drive all involved over the nearest cliff.

Vardalos is a genuinely likeable performer who will be forever dogged by having hit paydirt with an unsubtle but wildly popular 2002 indie smash whose like rarely comes an actor's way twice, much less once. And let's face it: if Penelope Cruz, say, can sell her particular Spanish sizzle to an international audience, why shouldn't the Canadian-born Vardalos do the same for the land of her ancestry, Greece - with the added bonus that Vardalos actually resembles a real person rather than the rarefied celluloid goddesses (or near enough) that are Cruz and her ilk.

Still, Driving Aphrodite - the title inexplicably changed from the punning if apocalyptic My Life In Ruins - seems to have gone directly from the pitch into production without anyone trying particularly hard to up the ante. Georgia's belated intended is a hirsute, apparently surly bus driver whose name, Poupi Kakas, gives you some idea of the film's attendant wit. (Against the odds, Alexis Georgoulis displays genuine charm in the part.) And the passengers conform to type: uptight Brits, beer-swilling Ozzies, and Americans with voices that can carry directly across the Atlantic. Oh, and there's a little old lady -  played by Sheila Bernette - who turns out to be a klepto. Isn't that cute?

The movie makes much of Georgia needing to retrieve her "kefi" or soul or life force, and it's simply a matter of time before she does, though given the behaviour of most of the opportunistic and/or inefficient Greeks with whom she comes in contact, the entire nation would seem to be on a kefi break.

An unexpected spark of truth amidst the prevailing contrivance comes in the form of an ageing Richard Dreyfuss, playing the widower, Irv, who is part of Georgia's retinue and isn't beyond proffering the odd aperçu when the mood strikes, and where else but at the Oracle of Delphi? Underplaying as the decibel levels preferred by Donald Petrie's direction mount around him, Dreyfuss steers what is at base an overfamiliar romcom towards something resembling genuine pathos. The film as a whole is more interested in hairy chests (Poupi), big hair (Georgia), and leaving no tired cultural cliché unexplored (everyone else). But playing a man who's seen it all and has a thing or two left still to say, Dreyfuss ensures that a crass and clamorous movie has the nous, if not the kefi, to give its quietest participant pride of place.

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