Sunday, July 20, 2008

"Mamma Mia!"

The ABBA-filled musical "Mamma Mia!" is so monumentally easy to make fun of, it's hardly even fun anymore. As a regular patron of musical theatre, I found the show to be a tremendously off-putting hunk of kitsch that seemed to have burrowed its way into the hearts of post-menopausal woman and Japanese tourists everywhere. However, regardless of what you think of the source material, the movie version (like the show, directed by Phyllidia Lloyd) is inarguably bad. There are abrupt cuts, continuity errors, confused all-over-the-place direction, and laughably ridiculous moments that were actually added for the film (e.g.: a moment involving water gushing up through a crack in the ground). It just makes no sense for a rational, let alone cynical, person to like this movie... yet here I am, grappling with the fact that I kind of enjoyed myself watching it. Though I was alternating between genuinely being entertained and laughing at it, I had a goofy smile on my face for much of the movie, even amidst the eye rolls. But I admit I'm likely the exception to the rule. If you have a feeling you're going to hate this movie, you probably will.

Some silly movies require you to just accept them for what they are to be able to swallow them; but even those with just a modicum of cynicism and/or good taste will have trouble getting through "Mamma Mia!" without wincing a bit. It's cheese-tastic and kitschy to an extreme that you can't even imagine, and takes at least 15 minutes to get used to. I'm glad I saw the movie -- it was a fun way to spend two hours -- but I was cringing or watching through my fingers for at least half of it. Like the show, the plot is thin as shit, and exists purely to hang 20 ABBA songs on that barely have anything to do with what's going on in the story at any given point. In fact, I wish they'd dispensed with the dialogue between musical numbers altogether, as they add an unnecessary 25 minutes or so to the proceedings, and are the only times when the movie drags. Technically, the movie's a disgrace. The cinematography practically burn your retinas; Everything's so bright, shiny and everyone's caked in makeup and shot in the most flattering light possible (I didn't detect a wrinkle on anyone). The bountiful energy showcased by the cast always feels a bit forced, but everyone involved seems to have had a blast making the movie (except for maybe poor Stellan Skarsgard), and they're really the reason why you'll enjoy yourself -- if you do.

Weirdly enough, "The Dark Knight's" fight sequences seem to have been given more attention to choreography than this musical; the "dancing" here is entirely composed of people waving their arms in the air. Christine Baranski's rendition of "Does Your Mother Know" and Julie Walters' "Take a Chance on Me" are among the movie's highlights, and anytime Meryl Streep opened her mouth, I stopped rolling my eyes and was smitten. That's how brilliant she is as an actress -- she can make even this bullshit seem credible. I was convinced The Streep was having a genuinely good time, but then again, she could convince me of anything. She could have played Pierce Brosnan's character and likely have pulled it off. Speaking of Brosnan, the less said about his singing, the better, but I almost admire a guy with that awful of a voice putting it out there for all to hear. When he sings, the movie turns into a weird style of torture porn, but things get back into the swing of things when the ladies take center stage, and particularly during the delightful curtain-call closing credits. Like "Xanadu," "Mamma Mia!" is impossible to take seriously on any level, and functions better as airheaded, escapist entertainment than anything resembling decent moviemaking. It's all infectiously insufferable, off-putting you as you tap your foot to the beat.


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