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Friday, June 10, 2011

Movie review -- Mamma Mia

I love the music of ABBA. Bjorn and Benny are musical geniuses. So when the movie arrived from Netflix, I was pretty excited.

Boy, silly sentiment and wasted anticipation.

Crass, banal, tedious, predictable: These are only a few of the words that describe "Mamma Mia."

And it's too bad, too, because it constantly showed admittedly entertaining glimmers of promise and potential. But each time I got a little hopeful that the film would ultimately redeem itself, the next turn around the corner would bring those hopes crashing down.

First, the movie's good points: The music is great and not just because they're ABBA songs. I really appreciated how these arrangements made much more clear the brilliance of the chord changes and the genius of the instrumentation. The bass lines, the piano playing, the odd guitar licks shimmer much more brilliantly than they do on any ABBA record. It's also much easier to hear the lyrics. And just like the ABBA records, they are infectious and smile-producing.

And Meryl Streep. Wow. Just wow. What a woman. She is incredible. In fact, she is beyond incredible. The woman was almost 60 when she made this film, and she comes across sexier than women 30-40 years younger than she is. Completly so. She has such vivaciousness! As always, her acting is amazing, made even more so by the fact that some of her best acting comes during the musical numbers, which I would think is very hard to do. She gives a very affecting performance that is never not believable (forgive me the double negative). Streep left me constantly amazed and engaged throughout the movie, and if there was a reason I kept with the movie to the end, it was probably her. She is a national treasure, and quite possibly the greatest actress ever known.

Relative newcomer Amanda Seyfried is endearing and has a fine, fine singing voice (and the scene on the beach between her and her on-screen fiance will induce chaste men to avert their eyes if they're wise), and Stellan Skarsgård is, no surprise here, highly watchable. Colin Firth does a good job of, well, playing Colin Firth, and Pierce Brosnan affects his normal suave, debonair, charming man. Indeed, he does this with such ease as to make it look, well, easy. Also, Christine Baranski does her normal fine job of straddling the line between being fun to watch and borderline cringe-inducing. Julie Walters does a good job, as well.

One thing I definitely appreciated about the film is that you get to see the actors doing things to which you're not accustomed to seeing them do: dancing, singing, being silly and goofy, and that sort of thing. The guys dancing on the dock in their flippers was giggle-inducing to the extreme. And the (literally) Greek Chorus: What a hoot! They were so much fun to watch.

OK, enough with the kudos. Did I need to see Ms. Baranski strike a pose with a huge, red tipped phallic symbol between her legs? Give me a break. Is the world really that desperate for even more lowest-common-denominator sexual jokes, double entendres that are more like Beevis & Butthead half entendres, and tidal waves of crass asides in films that we needed to see as many examples of these as we do in "Mamma Mia"? Do we need yet more glorification of the "far out" '60s, the wake of which caused and still causes so much damage? What is so great about everyone giving full throttle to their every base passion with no sign of restraint whatsoever? Why is it so wonderful and gleeful about seeing people getting drunk and a menopausal woman cavorting with a boy who looks like he's still a teen? How is it that self-autonomous individualism of the kind glorified by secular humanists/atheists and this film portrayed as so great when it is wreaking havoc in every crevice of Western culture? And why throw in a gratuitous homosexual relationship at the end? It's so in your face, it's so out of place that it's offensive and just plain stupid. Absolutely pointless. Seriously, I don't understand why mainstream Hollywood feels like a film isn't a film unless it leaves no opportunity to offend the sensibilities of heartland, tradition-minded, conservative Americans unused. Actually, I do, but that's a different post.

Furthermore, beyond all this, while I realize the difficulty of crafting a story around already existing songs, it was just a banal, boring, ultimately uninvolving story. Will Sophie find out which of the three men she lied to in an effort to show up at her wedding is really her dad? Will mom find out what Sophie did? Will her fiance find out what Sophie so connivingly did without telling him and still want to marry her? "Will Sophie find out that one of these three men is actually her dad?" mom frets. Will mom's friends from the past not give in to every stereotype of an aging women absolutely desperate to prove she still has it, baby, and thus retain some degree of her feminine dignity and not look so utterly pathetic and ridiculous? Oh, the suspense of it all.

Uhm, and it's Greece. The whole movie makes patently clear that this is Greece, as in almost completely Greek Orthodox Greece. So who do they have as the clergyman who is to perform the big wedding at the center of all the "drama"? An Anglican vicar. For Pete's sake, guys. What would be so bad about a Greek Orthodox priest? It's just as well with a a marriage that is as secular as this one.

Had this been a movie without ABBA songs, no one would have given it a second's attention. It would have been B movie or Straight-to-DVD if it had ever even been green lighted.

So for all the truly fun things this movie had to offer, I can't recommend it.

Have you seen it? What did you think? What did you agree with in this review? What made you disagree?

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