Getting back to musicals...
...it has been nearly two weeks since I went to see Mamma Mia and it would be safe to say that I had mixed feelings about it. My reaction was somewhere between Matthew Rettenmund's hatred for it at his excellent blog Boy Culture, and this positive, but not blindly so, review at Slate. Given the high level of anticipation I had for this, I guess my general feeling was one of disappointment. Granted, I felt the same way about the film version of Chicago, which was generally greeted as the best thing since Botox and won all those Oscars. So what do I know, right? Well, when it comes to musicals, the answer is that I know a hell of a lot more than most people. Trust me on this: I know musicals. So please don't hate me when I say that the movie Mamma Mia most reminded me of was, ahem, From Justin to Kelly, but with better songs and (mostly) better acting.
The things that were wrong with the movie are mostly the same things that were wrong with the stage version; namely: 1) no plot, 2) shallow characterizations- I refer here to the writing, not the acting, 3) songs that have tenuous connection to the story. The director has no idea where to place a camera or how to film a number so that it isn't either completely static or stupidly frenetic. There is almost no choreography and what there is is rudimentary and badly handled. And I can't say this enough: if you are going to do musicals, please use actors who are trained in musical theater. Is it at all surprising that Meryl Streep, who has done musicals on stage, makes a pretty good showing, while Pierce Brosnon does not?
I did enjoy aspects of the movie. The Streep, though a bit over the top, seems to be having a genuinely good time and is always fun to watch. Ditto Amanda Seyfried who is lovely and the best singer here. Dominic Cooper takes his shirt off, which is nice. Julie Walters and Christine Baranski are people I enjoy watching, but they both have numbers which are slightly-to-extremely embarassing. The ABBA songs are wonderful, of course, except when they are being butchered (yes, Mr. Brosnon, I'm talking to you.) As in the stage show, my favorite moment is Slipping Through My Fingers, an emotional song about a parent ruefully watching her daughter growing up and which is actually used in that very context in the movie.
You know, it's easy to sound churlish here, but I really didn't hate it. I had a moderately good time. And it always makes me happy when a musical does well because that means more musicals in the future. I just wish this musical was better. I wanted to come out of the theatre with the glow I had when I saw Hairspray and Moulin Rouge. I want to be transported. Mamma Mia was just an OK way to blow a few hours.