Saturday, September 20, 2008
Mamma Mia! **1/2
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Cast: Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth
Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Stellan Skarsgard
Amanda Seyfried, Dominic Cooper
During a decade long career where they sold over two hundred million records, Swedish pop group ABBA marked an entire generation (and their kids) by providing them with some of the greatest (or is it catchiest?) songs ever made.
Despite the popularity of their music, the group has always lacked the snob approval to deem them transcendental and to some their work remains vapid bubble gum confections.
This film, adapted from the wildly successful musical, delivers the goods in the same way. Nobody watching it can say they didn't enjoy it, but does that make it great art?
One can say the director looked to achieve this effect intentionally, but that would be wishful thinking considering what sloppy work she provides in telling the story of Donna (Streep), a free spirited single mom living in a Greek island.
Her daughter Sophie (Seyfried) is about to get married and wants to know who her father is. With this in mind she peruses through her mom's journal and comes up with three candidates: Sam Charmichael (Brosnan), Bill Anderson (Skarsgard) and Harry Bright (Firth), all of whom her mom had sex with around the time she was conceived.
She invites them secretly to her wedding, where joined by Donna's lifeling friends Tanya (a sensuous Baranski) and Rosie (scene stealing Walters), and every other inhabitant of the island, they will give path to mistaken identities, screwball situations and more singing and dancing than you'd expect in under two hours.
Truth is that for all we care the story could've been about a martian in love with a cow and the raison d'etre would still be finding a way to insert the ABBA songs in it.
First time film director Lloyd proves that she lacks the cinematical eye to make the theater to film transfer come off as something more than bellbottom camp.
The musical sequences, which come one after the other in what could be called "greatest hits filmmaking", are staged as if a drunken karaoke singer decided he wanted to continue the party on his way home.
It's true that the infectious beat of the music and all the colors and pretty people (Seyfried is especially good) can help achieve some joy, but once the party's over, the hangover will reveal all that went wrong before.
The problem with "Mamma Mia!" is basicallly that it looks cheap; with musicals the director has to be very careful into creating suspension of disbelief by making non musical moments segue into the songs invisibly.
For Lloyd it seems, this meant not rehearsing a single thing (what was up with those dancing divers?) and giving her actors a chance to improvise, which ironically makes the film look stagey and chaotic. During one of the first musical moments you will make up your mind on whether this is kitsch heaven or punishment worthy of boot camp, with "camp" being the key word.
The one undeinable thing is that the film fully belongs to the great Meryl Streep.
Gifted with a voice that gives the songs the dramatic dimension they were accused of lacking, she turns "The Winner Takes It All" into a somber, regretful moment of love long lost, while on "Super Trouper" she rejuvenates thirty years right in front of your eyes.
But it's on the title track with her sly smile, scarily contagious joy and fearless approach towards building a character that she is at her most glorious.
Whether you like the film or not, you really have to take a chance on Streep, how she does it is a mystery, yet you can't help but dig her, she truly is the dancing queen!