Monday, July 28, 2008

"Mamma Mia!" - REVIEW

There are several routes you can take when you attempt to weave a story out of the songs by a particular band. Either A) try really hard to cleverly work songs in and create a semi-coherent story, or B) barely try at all, and hope there are more hits than misses. The latter seems to have been the approach taken on the stage play and now movie called "Mamma Mia!" which strings together the songs of ABBA in the laziest manner possible. The first half, maybe even two thirds of the film, though never dull, never quite take off; there's a certain spark missing, even in a large dance number that eventually ends with all the town's women dancing on a pier. There's little cleverness to be found in the first half, even with the cast trying their hardest (sometimes a bit too hard in the case of main character Sophie, played by Amanda Seyfried). This leaves one burning question within me however: with the weak choreography, paper thin story (with plot holes big enough to fall into), and weak attempts to fit as many ABBA songs into the movie, why did I still walk out of the theater with a big smile on my face? It's just proof of what can happen when a movie finally catches fire and becomes interesting, even when it happens a bit too late. Streep, as usual, is good, but even then I found her to be better than expected. All of the characters are so broadly drawn, and there's so little room for deep characterization that I figured that even Streep would prove to be fun but still forgettable; I was wrong. Though the movie may be about a 20 year old's wedding day (seriously, WHO GETS MARRIED AT 20 IN THIS DAY AND AGE?) it's the "oldfolks" who are the most fun to watch, namely Streep, and her two pals, played by Julie "Mrs. Weasley" Walters, and Christine Baranski. When the trio are on screen (either together, or separated) the movie seems to gain a little something extra. The trio of potential fathers are also fun, though sometimes they get stuck in the swirl of the unfocused story, flashy colors, and overloads of estrogen crowding the screen. But in the end, it all comes down to Streep, who (surprisingly) ends up being the figure we care the most about. She has two standout scenes, one in which she sings about watching her daughter grow up, and the other about the challenges of love ("The Winner Takes it All") in what is easily the best scene in the film, despite Phyllidia Lloyd's amateurish direction. Though the beginning is such an awkward mess, it manages to pull itself in time for the big moment, which packs a few hilarious surprises bound to have all but the most cold hearted smiling and laughing. In some ways, it may be the perfect summer movie: laziness, sun, people in bright colors, scenes by the beach, happy songs, and a big fat Greek wedding to top it all off.

PS: stick around during the credits for two more additional performances, the second of which involving some outrageous costumes that had the theater in stitches.

Grade: an affectionate C+

Nominations: Best Actress - Meryl Streep(#4), Best Original Song - Thank You for the Music(#3)

Number of 2008 films seen: 21

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