This is the weekend of The Dark Knight. Know it, accept it, love it. But the other big release of the week, fresh off its successful international debut, is nothing to sneeze at.
Mamma Mia is the movie adaptation of a Broadway musical built around the music of ABBA and it stars Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Amanda Seyfried and Christine Baranski among others. It’s got a wafer thin storyline, over the top performances, terrible direction, croaky voices and bad choreography. I saw it with a headache, a sinus infection, rock-bottom expectations and a foul mood – and I still couldn’t help but fall in love with it.
That’s right, I said it. I love Mamma Mia. I feel like I just said I love Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (which, incidentally was much, much better choreographed and shot) but there it is. I enjoyed myself thoroughly. What this says about me, i don’t know although I’m sure many of you could enlighten me.
The movie itself is about as basic as it can get: young girl invites three of her mother’s ex-lovers to her wedding on a tiny Greek island because she wants to know who her father is. Confusion ensues until everything is happily resolved and all the men take their shirts off. In the middle there’s some stuff about love betrayed and friendship and leaving the nest but nobody cares coz they’re all singing and dancing and running and taking their shirts off. Woo-hoo!
Actually, it’s all probably a bit too “woo hoo!” In the very first five minutes, for example, you’re treated to scenes that make you wonder if it’s the nineties again and Yash Chopra is trying to be hip, before your eyes focus and you see it’s Meryl Streep jumping up and down, bumping bums with Julie Walters and Christine Baranski, not Akshay Kumar and Madhuri Dixit establishing their childhood friendship in Dil To Pagal Hai.
Everything is magnificently silly, magnified to a thousand degrees and insanely frenetic. Meryl Streep is a goddess – she’s always been a goddess – but here she apparently decided that the best way to serve the material would be if she jumped off the metaphorical cliff and left all her inhibitions behind. And I’m not talking about the obligatory jumpsuits (which she rocks) and the singing (which she does very well) here, I’m talking about her dancing which is truly godawful albeit very athletic (I’m thinking in particular of the song where she discovers her three former lovers hanging out above her goat shed, completely out of the blue).
There are precious few moments here when the characters are allowed to introspect or look for depth within themselves (indeed, it’s a testament to the skill of the actors cast that they’re able to come up with any) so Streep decides to physically manifest every single emotion her character experiences. While this is not an unusual turn to take on stage, it becomes an interesting and somewhat disorienting decision on film because the camera takes you in so close that at times you aren’t sure whether she’s having a moment or suffering a fit – but eventually, as you give yourself over to the movie, it all works. She quivers, shivers, shakes, shimmies, crouches, leaps, jumps, splits, bounces and dances her way all over this movie. And she does all of it like her life depended on it. Given that she’s playing a character who’s supposedly older and wiser after living through a few hard knocks, you’re not surprised that her ex-lovers still carry vivid memories of her if this is the mellowed Donna.
Of the rest of the cast, Pierce Brosnan has a voice that belongs in a bar after a drink too many but he’s lovely as the boy who never quite got over Donna. Colin Firth’s character never quite gets off the ground but it’s Colin Firth and he’s heartwarming and he takes his shirt off. Amanda Seyfried is pitch perfect. Everybody else is serviceable, except for Julie Walters who has nothing to do except terrorize Skellan Skarsgaard at the very end. I have no idea what that was about.
I’d be lying if I were to even pretend that this movie is anything approaching a modern classic – or even in the same neighborhood as some of the other, more successful musicals we’ve seen in the past few years – but I’m so glad I saw it. If you can’t get tickets to The Dark Knight or want something lighter and fluffier, then Mamma Mia is for you.