Tuesday, July 29, 2008

There was something in the air that night

Yeah that's right I saw Mama Mia! I sat through it all the way to the credits so I could see the part where Samuel L. Jackson invites Meryl Streep to join the Avengers (holy crap has THAT joke not gotten old yet). Let me say this for the film, it is not the worst movie I've ever seen, it's not even the worst movie I've seen this summer (what up Wanted) but I will say that the movie does no favors to making the musical genre accessible to anyone who doesn't already have a love for ABBA going in.

Director Phyllida Lloyd staged the original Mamma Mia on Broadway and all over the world, but this doesn't make her a credible film director and working with a bunch of amateur singers and dancers doesn't help matters. I will say that she keeps it light but she doesn't open up the story the way only a film can over stage. Susan Stroman had a similar problem when she mostly bombed at adapting the Producers to the big screen several years ago. No offense to both women who are tremendous theatrical talents (especially to Stro) but film is simply not a milieu they've mastered. Lloyd seems to be operating under the impression that overtly manufactured fun will naturally endear itself to the audience. Well not this viewer, no how no sir. I know organic fun and I know manufactured fun and I just didn't believe it up there. My audience though, which to be fair WAS the film's target audience (women in their 20's-60's) seemed to be having a grand old time. The woman behind me clearly felt that Meryl Streep accidentally breaking a door handle she was attempting to repair was the height of comedic brilliance. Clearly this is a woman who never saw Silkwood. Now THAT'S comedy! Oh also the phrase "goat-house" is guffaw worthy as is the sight of Julie Walters chasing a shorts wearing Stellan Skarsgard while singing "Take a Chance On Me" (well ok that's kind of funny). It's a testament to the pop-strength of the songs that even when poorly (and I mean POORLY) sung and danced to they still can provoke a sort of toe-tapping fun.
The story? Oh a little wisp of a thing about a girl on the eve of her wedding inviting the three men who could be her father to the proceedings. Everyone finds love on a beautiful Greecian island and much revelry and half-assed farce ensue. It's cute until you stop and think about it for three seconds and realize that it's kind of creepy. Yep Meryl Streep's Donna was kind of a ho, but who cares? Now Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) has three daddies! Hooray! I don't mind the extended family, but the duplicity involved in Sophie's plan is kind of bizarre. Why not ask mom point blank? Cause there would be no movie then, I guess. Giving credit where it's due I will say that Sayfried shows considerable singing chops and hits just the right tone for the film. Streep is in good voice but she looks perpetually red-eyed as though she was crying in embarrassment between takes. Her friends, Julie Walters and Christine Baranski (playing a privileged lush, big surprise) are fine but the same can't be said for the men. Pierce Brosnan is...oh I can't even say it, I like him too much. He just, ugh, he cannot sing at all. He's just a big super likable movie star but man can the guy not sing. He makes Jonny Depp sound like Brian Stokes Mitchell, really that's what it's like listening to Brosnan sing. Sorry Pierce. I appreciate the effort but nope, sorry. Colin Firth actually can sing but he only gets one quick little ditty and then promptly vanishes from the film. Also his resolution is completely unclear and bizarre (spoiler alert/question?: Wait, so he WAS gay?). Stellan Skarsgard, in what has to be his least serious role EVER by a large margin doesn't really sing at all, but his sheer un-musical-ness makes him kind of a huge distraction.
But even bad performers can get hidden by good staging right? Well the film doesn't even manage to get that right. It tries to coast more on being an amateur good time than professionalism. The movie goes for the cheapest of laughs and the most broad audience pleasing gestures possible time and again. A mother brushing her daughter's hair before the wedding? Check. Girls partying more boisterously than the men could ever imagine? Check. Slo-mo Meryl Streep jumps in lieu of actual dancing? Many a check. "Comical" interactions with local wildlife? That's a big old goathouse check. Someone, oh good lord, wobbling then falling OUT OF A BOAT? Yeppers. The filmmakers want grandma's easy laugh and know they don't have to work too hard to get it. Even when "Dancing Queen" kicks in it's so abrupt that the movie practically throttles you by the collar screeching "Enjoy me!" Alright so this movie really wasn't ever intended for me but that's no reason why a little more thought and care couldn't have gone into it.

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