Mamma Mia! that was a fine piece of cinema!

25 Aug

OK, so I don’t like Disco in general or Abba in particular. I hate musicals most of the time. So we watched this fast-forwarding all the songs, because someone lent us the DVD and insisted it’s worth watching. They were wrong so wrong.

The Cast

"Look how much fun we all are". Clearly trying to appeal to the divorcee market, the cast is packed with plastic surgery and silver foxes.

The story is nothing more than a series of contrived segues between the tracks they’re trying to systematically brutalise. This alone qualifies it as bad cinema, but even the contrivances are desperately predictable and hammy. I kept getting the narrator in my head from Monty Python’s Holy Grail:

NARRATOR:  Oh, anyway, on to scene twenty-four, which is a smashing scene with some lovely acting, in which Arthur discovers etc…

I also have no idea why Colin Firth (as much as I like him) was cast as the spontaneous guy, or why he spent the 90 minutes impersonating Dudley Moore from Arthur.

The best thing about musicals is how jarring most of them are. It’s like trying to shift gears with no clutch. In the middle of a desperately heart-felt conversation, what could be more unwanted than a pace-killing musical number, in which a character tortures twenty seconds of dialogue over a full three minutes? But off they launch, while character number two tries to look busy. Character number two is always good entertainment under such circumstances, as long as you can block out number one. The awkwardness, the attempt to appear engaged in something so plastic and tedious. It’s hell, but it’s about the best entertainment on offer if you’re stuck watching a faux-true-life pageant.

C'mon everyone! Head for the pier!

Or perhaps there’s one of those ‘celebratory-of-life’ scenes in which the entire beach breaks out into synchronised chorus and heads for the pier so that someone can get pushed in in a display of spontaneous choreographed joie de vivre. This happens at least twice in Mamma Mia (the pier and everything, not just the everybody-somehow-knows-the-words thing). Well, the best bit for me is right after the big finish, when the stage curtain is supposed to fall while the scene changes, and everyone stands for a while with a look on their faces that says, ‘There is no curtain, this is a movie’. And so somehow everyone awkwardly returns to normal as though they had previously been under extra-terrestrial mind control for the last four minutes, and are completely unaware that they had all been dancing. I love watching the pieces of gearbox whistling through the air as they try to make that transition.

Thirteen going on like 60-something

"Don't tell mom I'm jumping on the bed"

Musical numbers that try to be integrated into normal story life (i.e. those supplanting normal conversation, as opposed to those on a stage or exploring a character’s thoughts) are best seen with the sound down. It is wonderful watching actors trying to do something expressive with themselves as though in a conversation, because the body language is so daft and exaggerated. Meryl Streep is supposed to be an independent free spirit in Mamma Mia, so she spends ages cavorting around and acting thirteen while she sings.

"We're kind of lovesick and stuff. I bet we'll hook up by the end of this"

And in duets, you get those bits where both singers lean their backs against either side of the same wall, so that they can tell the viewer that they’re communicating now. And then there are the poses that mean ‘I’m emoting’ or ‘Look how much fun this is – live vicariously through my enjoyment of this!’ It really is quite funny.

Anyway, it’s a desperately stupid movie. I have no idea why so many of you liked it. Obviously characters breaking into song must not jar you out of any illusion that you’re not watching a movie, as it does me. Lucky you. But for such an expensive excuse to don retarded Seventies disco-glam costumes, and a cheap sewing together of Abba songs with such a tepid plot, Mamma Mia gets a 1/10 from me.

Whee! I'm just so darned *obviously* free!!

For having the boys dress up in stupid seventies outfits for the end credits, Mamma Mia gets upgraded to 2/10.


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