Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mama Mia!: The Review

There are, basically, four essential qualities necessary to enjoying the movie version of the musical "Mama Mia!" starring Meryl Streep, now out in theaters everywhere.

They are:

1. A love for the music of Abba.

2. The ability to check your critical thinking skills at the door (and not really miss them all that much).

3. The kind of generosity of spirit that would allow you to forgive the fact that, since he has no singing voice whatsoever, Pierce Brosnan apparently decided, at some point, that the way to "sell" a song is to produce facial expressions one would expect him to exhibit while experiencing an extremely complicated bowel movement.

4. Probably? You need to be a girl.

But if you can answer largely in the affirmative to these four conditions? Then you seriously need to grab your like-minded girlfriends and head on over to the theater. Because "Mama Mia!" is one fun romp with some very excellent all-out over-the-top performances that must be seen to be appreciated. I'm thinking specifically here of Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, Meryl Streep and, yes, Pierce Brosnan. Wow!

To review (or in case you've been living in another galaxy), "Mama Mia!" the movie is the film version of "Mama Mia!" the very successful Broadway musical. The storyline is manufactured and entirely built around the original lyrics found in the music of Abba, a Swedish rock band formed by two married couples that became wildly popular in the seventies. Whatever the reason, there seems to be two kinds of people in the world: those who love Abba and those who don't. And, in my experience at least, never the twain shall meet.

I, personally, can't think of any girl of my acquaintance with a pulse in the seventies that didn't have at least a few Abba 45's in the collection.

I have to mention, while we're at it, this isn't the first feature film that has relied heavily on the magic of the music of Abba. I'm thinking here of Muriel's Wedding, Toni Collette's debut film. Another not-to-be-missed gem, albeit not quite the big truckload of silly that "Mama Mia!" is.

Perhaps the most refreshing thing about "Mama Mia!" is that, while there is certainly the element of beautiful young people represented (and I'm not knocking it, believe me), the story for the most part revolves around characters on the distant side of middle age that are still vital, alive, full of sass and--I dare say it?--even more interesting than their youthful counterparts.

I'll have to admit to initially not being completely sold on the idea of Meryl Streep singing, dancing, and heading up the cast of probably biggest musical adaptation of the year. And, don't get me wrong, there are moments in this film that just don't always work. But overall? Girlfiend pulled it off. Particularly when it counted, her biggest number "The Winner Takes it All" a song that, when it began--high on an island mountain top--elicited an actual giggle from me. But, by the time Meryl was done with it? I was wiping away a tear. THAT, my friends, is talent.

As for Christine Baranski and Julie Walters who play Meryl's BFF's, well, they were just stellar. And, above all, committed, which is, in my opinion, what it takes to pull off fluff of this magnitude. Both Christine's big number, "Does your Mother Know?" and Julie's, "Take a Chance on Me" are major high points.

I have developed a grudging respect for Pierce Brosnan that may have actually reached fandom at this point. I mean, show me another James Bond with the balls to manfully croon away with his non-singing voice, damn it all. I was also impressed with Pierce's performance in another film the offbeat, The Matador . This is one pretty boy who doesn't take himself very seriously. A quality that, in my book at least, always scores major extra credit points.

And now, randomly, you need to see Helen Mirren in a bikini. Because she looks AMAZING (at sixty-two).


Brenda said...

Who on earth doesn't like Abba? Great review, Bizzy!

Mary Thorsby said...

Excellent review! I wasn't going to go see it -- I OD'd on ABBA one summer when it was all I played on my Walkman -- but now I'm dying to see it!

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those who love Abba. "Dancing Queen" -- need I say more?

Anna said...

I've browsed your old posts since re-discovering you, but I missed this one! Your comments made my heart sing. I fight hysteria during any viewing of any part of MM (someday I will watch it alone and howl like a wolf all the way through), and I'm feeling it again. I love ABBA. I forgot about them until I read that the ABBA guys were doing a movie, and I started obsessing on YouTube. I've recently gotten to know great songs of theirs I didn't know existed (all the wasted years! :-). I have to say, I think Benny and Bjorn are geniuses to make ABBA what it is. Also, I love how the actors look like real people and sing like real people. I love how Meryl lets herself look imperfect. Yes, Pierce is very charming. I love them for their imperfections. Even the young actors look more like real people than most young actors, I find, with a quirky imperfectness, too. I also loved Muriel's Wedding. I read an editorial awhile back about these movies and Abba and how the music can almost be like a drug. Muriel, when her life is going better, says something like, "I haven't had to listen to ABBA for awhile."
Loved your review. Wish I'd written it myself. You are inspiring me to do a blog like yours. . .