Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mamma Mia! (2008)

Movie quotes:
Harry Bright (Colin Firth): What would the father of the bride normally do?
Tanya (Christine Baranski): Pay. [pause] Though my dad drew the line at my third.

At a glance:
Meryl Streep proves she can even excel in a musical comedy, and there’s a lot of fun in watching Mamma Mia!, but a little more choreography and a little less Pierce Brosnan singing would have made it even better

Our review:
I’ve never been an Abba fan; quite the opposite, really: I always found their music too simplistic. And so I had no intention of seeing Mamma Mia!. But when my daughter latched onto the music and made me keep playing the soundtrack over and over (and over), I found, much to my surprise, that the music was, as they say, growing on me. And suddenly, I found a newborn desire to watch the film. My daughter, who is only five, joined me and we watched together. She enjoyed the music and some of the silly scenes where the guys danced with flippers. I appreciated that Meryl Streep was able to enhance even this most unlikely of genres, and that brought back memories of how impressed I was by her organic charm the first time I saw her in a comedy, way back in 1991’s Defending Your Life. After being less impressed than most by Streep’s more heralded but less accessible roles, I fell in love with her as an actress and artist. Here she was again, fearlessly dancing her way through a series of Abba tunes.

So why have reviews for the film been so mixed? Well, Streep’s three suitors are noticeable weak. Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd sleep-walks through the film and is devoid of the requisite charm required (you can probably tell I’m not his biggest fan). Pierce Brosnan’s singing is mostly awful (although he nails his middle number). Colin Firth is by far the best, but he’s given the least to do. Then there’s the choreography, or lack of choreography. Most dance numbers are loosely choreographed, with everyone doing their own thing. It would have been nice to have some tightly wound numbers. In a film that is supposed to be fun fun fun, some of the camaraderie feels a little forced. And finally, director Phyllida Lloyd’s unwillingness to use close-ups tended to minimize our ability to become intimate with and empathize with the characters.

None of this took away from my personal enjoyment; for me, the film was in the right time at the right place. I enjoyed my appreciation of Abba’s music; my daughter jumped up and did many of the dances, which added to my entertainment quotient, and, much like Pierce Brosnan’s Sam Carmichael, 17 years later, I got to fall in love with Meryl Streep all over again. Rating: 3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"A film that actually earns the exclamation mark that adorns its title, thanks to the exuberance that Streep and her co-stars bring to the job of reviving the rituals of the movie musical."
- Sandra Hall (Sydney Morning Herald)

"I believe that genealogy would prove "director" Phyllida Lloyd a descendant of Ed Wood himself."
- Nathaniel Rogers (Film Experience)

"There might not be anything as utterly dispiriting as watching people pretending to have fun, and that is quite literally the only card the movie has to play."
- Tim Brayton (Antagony & Ecstasy)

"The movie gets by on sheer exuberance. Your appreciation of it, I suspect, will strongly depend on your mood and the enthusiasm of the audience members around you."
- Richard Knight (Windy City Times)

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