Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Movie Review
    — Mamma Mia!

Please don’t make Pierce Brosnan sing in a movie ever again.  Ever.

Note: I have not seen the stage version of this, so I can’t comment on how well or poorly the screenplay meshes with the original.  But I have my suspicions that a few things got dropped in the movie.

Beyond that, make no mistake, Mamma Mia! is not a “serious” movie.  It is camp.  And when it remembers that it’s okay to be campy, that’s where the film excels and sells itself to the audience, making us smile, giggle and twitter, and even sing along.  (It’s ABBA music.  You’re supposed to sing along!)

When the movie pushes in a bit of melodrama — Sophie and Sky’s tiny spat, for example — it stutters and stumbles.  (Or anytime Brosnan sings.)  But as soon as the next whoop-it-up chorus-boys-and-girls dance number comes along, all is good again.

The casting, or more the use of the cast, is spotty.  The two adult women sidekicks rip into the film with abandon, chewing the scenery and carrying the film forward.  Meryl Streep always feels reined in by uncertainty — should she just say “fuck it” and embrace the cheese, or should she hold back?  This is informed by the character she is playing, perhaps, but she never feels like she is inhabiting a movie built around ABBA songs.  The girl playing Sophie is a wide-eyed cipher; her motives and dreams are vaguely mentioned throughout the movie, but she never really projects them.  Sky is cute but otherwise empty.  All three adult male cast members seem more stunned by the film than anything else; again, while that’s part of the characters, it comes across to the viewer as mediocre acting (or poor directing).

Thank goodness for one of the men’s implied gay romance.  The confession exchange on the boat gave more depth to the two characters talking than the entire rest of the film had, and included a genuinely clever crossed-signals dialogue bit.

Also annoying was the insistence on groups of three — three adult women, three adult men, Sophie and her two girlfriends.  Sophie’s gal pals are so prominent in the first 10 minutes that their near absence from the rest of the film stands out strongly.  And should there have been a threesome (ahem) with Sky as the pivot point, to keep that balance?  Oh yes, we did see Sky, the black bartender, and one other guy together for about 3 seconds in one scene, so maybe there was such a triad intended.  (Typical story logic says that the unnamed third guy there should also be the gay fling attached to one of the adult men, but I don’t think it was the same actor.)

In the end, you have two choices with this film: sit outside it and analyze it and find it wanting, or inhabit the film’s world and burst out into song, dance, and sequins as needed.  The choice is easy; the hard part is dealing with Pierce Brosnan’s singing voice.

Updated on January 22, 2010

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