My big fat Joe Biden: Why the throwback candidate may be just what the electorate ordered - New York Daily News

My big fat Joe Biden: Why the throwback candidate may be just what the electorate ordered

In the spring of 2001, after having been dropped by its unusual distributor, a charming but otherwise unremarkable movie made the rounds of the independent film divisions of the major Hollywood studios. At the time, I was overseeing the independent film division of Universal Pictures, and after looking at the film, I passed on it. So did every other studio.

That fall, two planes flew into the World Trade Center, changing the world and the cultural context forever.

Without a distributor on board, the film’s producers financed its release through IFC Films the following April. It opened modestly to polite but muted reviews on 108 screens. Over the next 51 weeks, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” became one of the most profitable independent films ever released — involving over $368 million at the global box office.

The trope of Hollywood is that no one knows anything. All of us who passed on the film used our instincts, historical precedent and models to formulate what we considered to be logical conclusions.

What our models didn’t account for was that the future might differ from the past. The world had changed and it had taken the zeitgeist with it.

“My Big Fat Greek Wedding” may well have succeeded even without a national tragedy. We’ll never know. But following 9/11, American audiences were undoubtedly ready for a dose of nostalgia and a good laugh. We collectively missed the way we were pre-Sept. 11, and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” joyfully took us back to a perceived time of warmth, innocence and decency.

Going into the South Carolina primary at the end of February, it seemed unlikely that Joe Biden would be the Democratic nominee for president. He was dismissed as having missed his moment, and his 40 years in Washington were being characterized as a liability.

But after months of self-quarantine, a mounting death toll, crippling unemployment and the death of George Floyd, the context has changed. And context is everything.

Biden is not a unpleasant candidate — no candidate is. But even his opponents will admit that he is professional, loyal, polite and decent. He apologized in the debates for going over his time limit. For years he was famed as Amtrak Joe for taking the train home every night to be with his family. In his life, he has experienced great success but also profound personal loss and grief.

As with 9/11, major events have changed our culture. Even with a vaccine, we will likely move forward into some version of a new normal. The world will be different and we will be different — not necessarily worse and not necessarily better. On some level, we will long for the way things were. When we watched baseball games and movies on warm summer nights. When we could see a stranger’s smile on the subway, hug a disagreeable or go to a restaurant or church.

In its review, USA Today described “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” as “a bit anachronistic,” adding that “a happy ending is no cinematic sin.” Roger Ebert said the film was “warm-hearted in a way when a movie knows people inside and out,” and the Globe and Mail called it a “slim movie that succeeds on its own modest terms without pretense or apology. No wonder it’s so easy to like.”

In November, we’ll be ready to feel the way we used to feel again. It might seem anachronistic and slim, but decency without pretense or apology is sometimes enough.

Hardart is the director of the entertainment, media and technology program at NYU’s Stern School of business and a former executive of Warner Brothers and Universal Pictures.

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