Monday, 14 July 2008

Mamma Mia!

Music, memories, mayhem, mediocrity, magical and messy movie moments, and Mad Madam Meryl – Mamma Mia!

Mamma Mia! has actually been released in London before the U.S. so I get to be an early reviewer of this strange film. It’s a film that will be appreciated or hated by people in different ways, depending on their age and tolerance of musicals.

Let me say from the start that I think the 70’s was the very best decade for music (sorry, I just can’t help it) and I was an open fan of ABBA from their first day on the world stage to their last (and of the later music of Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson in the musicals Chess and Kristina fran Duvemala). I also love musicals in general as well as many of the filmed versions of stage musicals. Given these facts, one might wonder why I have never seen Mamma Mia! on stage (after all, living in London, I could have done so at any time in the past six years). The answer is that I prefer my musicals to have original songs, not stories using (or, even worse, built around) existing songs (Moulin Rouge is a magnificent exception). I had a feeling that I would enjoy the staged version of Mamma Mia!, but that it would not particularly thrill me (not $50 worth anyway), so I kept putting it off. But I could not resist going to the filmed version (for only $9), which, unfortunately, confirmed my feeling (the feeling that I would be disappointed).

Besides some great ABBA songs, the best thing about the film was the gorgeous setting – a Greek island. That this was the best thing is probably not a promising start for a review. The next best thing was the performance of Meryl Streep, who sang better than anyone else in the film and whose exuberance made me feel young again (because I am considerably younger than she is). In fact, the film seemed designed to appeal to my age group and to help us feel young again – in that, at least, it succeeded, at least for me. The problem with Meryl’s performance being the highlight is that I have never been a fan of Meryl Streep (I think she is an excellent actor; I just don’t like her very much). I do like Pierce, Colin, and Stellan, but was not impressed by any of their performances in Mamma Mia! And while Pierce deserves some credit for effort and bravery, he should not be considering a singing career.

The film (and some of this probably applies to the stage musical) had far too many flaws: 1) The plot, if it can even be called that, was just silly; 2) The acting was not strong enough to help; 3) Neither was the chemistry between the characters; 4) Aside from Streep’s Donna, there was almost no character development; 5) There were inconsistencies involving time periods; and 6) The first half-hour was almost painful to watch and I would not blame those who might decide to walk out at that point. The pain came primarily from the over-the-top madness of the three women who are at the center of the film. These three women are responsible for most of the mayhem and the messy movie moments. I rarely enjoyed what they did, including their performance of “Waterloo” during the credits.

Nevertheless, I DID enjoy Mamma Mia! Yes, hard as it is to believe after what I hope was a suitably scathing critique, I did get caught up in the magic of the music, especially when they started to sing some of my favourite ABBA songs, like “Our Last Summer”, “SOS”, “Slipping Through My Fingers” and “The Winner Takes It All”. Meryl Streep’s performance of the latter was the highlight of the film for me (even if I am not a fan). I happened to visit the Greek islands twice in the late seventies, during the days of ABBA, so the film succeeded in taking me back to that time in a unique way. And, after all, this musical is surely not trying to be anything but a lot of fun. For the last half of the film, I resigned myself to getting into the spirit of the fun and just enjoyed the beautiful scenery and the music. What’s wrong with having a good time watching actors make fools of themselves?

So, yeah, I actually have my mug up for this mess. If you like the music of ABBA, chances are you will enjoy it too. ***


  1. All I can say once again is the balance between the review and stars is a thing of wonder. What would a review of a one star movie look like?

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