Doodad Kind of Town

Quick Take: "Mamma Mia"
July 19, 2008, 1:35 pm
Filed under: Musicals

Despite what you read elsewhere, I’m pretty sure that “Mamma Mia!” was conceived by a group of 12-year-old girls at a slumber party after getting all hopped on brownies and Twizzlers and listening to “Abba Gold” one too many times.

I’m absolutely positive that’s where all the choreography was created.

Who else would have decided that the proper way to stage “Dancing Queen” was with grown women singing the verses into hairbrush ‘microphones,’ and a big finish featuring a line of women skipping and twirling merrily through a village while getting all the lowly working women in sight to doff their aprons and join the skipping/twirling line?

What adult woman among us would picture the entertainment at her bachelorette party to be Mom and her menopausal friends in spandex and platform boots, serenading the crowd with with “Super Trooper?”

And what grown-up would have imagined the treacly ballad “The Winner Takes it All” as an eleventh-hour dramatic monologue by the leading lady to describe the greatest, failed relationship of her life?

Certainly this plot sounds like the invention of 12-year-olds: 20-year-old Sophie lives on a postcard-perfect Greek island where she helps her mother run a bed-and-breakfast. She’s never known her father – according to her mom’s diary, it could be anyone of three men – so for her wedding, she secretly invites all three to the island in the hopes one of them will be revealed as her long-lost dad and give her away. And it’s all set to Abba music!

Now I’m as susceptible as anyone to the guilty pleasure of Abba, but even I was worn out by “Mamma Mia!”‘ and its forced, incessant giddiness. And I was completely embarrassed for the many otherwise fine actors (among them, Meryl Streep as mom Donna, plus Chirstine Baranski and Julie Walters as her gal pals; Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard are the trio of possible daddies.) They’re all game and they throw themselves into their ridiculous roles with gusto. Streep, in particular, shows an irrepressible silly side that she must have been dying to let out after so many years of deeply serious roles (we got a glimpse of it in “Stuck on You.”) Unfortunately, as the film goes along, her idiosyncratic line readings get to be a little annoying; she’s not quite as adorable as she thinks she is.

Streep, however, has the film’s single best sequence – the only quiet moments in “Mamma Mia” – where she sings “Slipping Through my Fingers” as she lovingly helps her daughter dress for the wedding. That one sequence nearly made me cry.

Amanda Seyfried as Sophie probably comes off best in the cast. She’s wide-eyed, unaffected and possessed of a strong, pleasant pop singing voice. Certainly she’s the only one in the cast you don’t come away feeling embarrassed for.

I really wanted to surrender to “Mamma Mia” and its happy, summertime, sing-along feel, but I found I just couldn’t shut off the logical part of my brain. The film commits two of the most grating sins of illogic that I can think of:

1) Magic Movie Math: I’m getting a little tired of movies that refer to events of 20 years ago as if that were the Woodstock/flower child era. Hello, people, it’s 2008 -Woodstock was almost 40 years ago!! Sophie is 20; per the film’s timeline, she was conceived in 1987. So how come the flashbacks of her possible fathers show them with hippie-ish beards, headbands and hair to the middle of their backs? Well, except for Firth, who’s shown as a Johnny-Rotten style headbanger – which would have been cool in the late 70’s – 30 years ago

2)Lines/Jokes from the original play that don’t work with the film’s cast: When Baranski arrives on the island, Streep grabs her virtually non-existent breasts and squeals “When did you get these?” Baranski tells her “My third husband bought them!” Well, hubby must have a very poor man – or else it was a widly successful breast reduction surgery. In a later swimsuit scene, the top of Baranski’s suit is distinctly baggy. (Perhaps 12-year-olds did the costuming as well?) I’m pretty sure this is a line from the original stage production, and if Streep had to deliver that line, it would have made more sense for her to grab some of Baranski’s jewelry before uttering it.

Bottom line? If you really like Abba, but you also like good movies, stay home and rent “Muriel’s Wedding.”


5 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Pat, this is an absolutely hilarious review. Great job.

Comment by Rick Olson

I’m so with you here. The film lacked any visual POP that the songs of ABBA deserve. I truly think the director is out of her league here – she needs to stick to theater.Quite simply, I think Mamma Mia! is the worst looking film I’ve seen this year.

Comment by Fox

Rick – Thanks, glad you liked it.Fox – Yep, we’re in total agreement. Visually it was a sloppy, uninspired mess (the endless shots of sparkling blue sea water nowithstanding), and the staging and choreography of the musical numbers was hideous.

Comment by Pat

I was across the hall for TDK and now you’ve convinced me I didn’t miss much. I’ll probably just catch it on dvd, unless my mom wants to go see it, then she’ll have to buy my ticket.

Comment by Rachel

Excellent review. You pretty much confirmed everything I inferred from the trailer.Glad I missed this one. 🙂

Comment by Luke Harrington

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