Sunday, August 3, 2008

Who Wouldn't Want to Be a Dancing Queen...Mamma Mia!

Mike and I had the wonderful luxury of a date on Saturday while my parents watched the kids for us. We saw “Mamma Mia!” and had a lovely, relaxed dinner at one of our favorite spots, the Capitol Coffeehouse and Bistro in Hillsdale. (Side note: children rarely frequent this quiet restaurant!)

Neither of us had sky-high expectations, because the critics trashed the film. We had seen the play years ago and enjoyed it thoroughly, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting the movie. It definitely exceeded my expectations, and I loved it!

Mamma Mia!” is a musical (set to the songs of ABBA) about a single mom, Donna (Meryl Streep), who is running a ramshackle hotel on an island in Greece and raising a single daughter, Sophie. Sophie is engaged to be married and has always felt a hole in her life because she hasn’t known her father. She discovers Donna’s diary from the summer she was conceived and discovers that she was fathered by one of three men…and Donna doesn’t really know for sure which one it was. She invites all of her potential dads to the wedding, and the action starts with all of the guests arriving group by group. First, Sophie’s two best friends, then Donna’s two best friends (played by the wonderful Christine Baranski and Julie Walters), and finally the three hapless men. Donna is horrified when she discovers them, and chaos ensues…amid much hilarity, music, dancing, and high drama.

My mother-in-law saw the movie a few weeks ago and has become obsessed with all things “Mamma Mia!” The movie has been even more successful overseas (especially in Europe and Australia) than it has been here. Although ABBA music has been popular stateside, it doesn’t compare to how well the group is loved in Europe. After all, they got their break at the delightfully campy Eurovision Song Contest. How many Americans (not married to Europeans, Australians, or Israelis) have even heard of Eurovision???

As a kid, Mike was a huge ABBA fan and owned all of their records. “Dancing Queen” was one of my first 45s, but my ABBA knowledge pales in comparison to his. I must admit that similar to tennis, the Olympics, parsnips, and gin and tonic, Mike has also converted me to ABBA.
And now my review!

First, the bad:

1. I have to agree with some of the critics that the film editing was pretty choppy, apparently a result of an inexperienced director. The scenery is drop-dead gorgeous, but at times I felt a bit dizzy because of the fast rate of frame and scene changes! It was almost as if the director was trying to pack everything into the film that she possibly could.

2. The chronology was messed up—because of a line in one of the songs, “Our Last Summer,” about “flower power.” If Sophie had been conceived during flower power and her parents had indeed been hippies that year, she would be in her 40s rather than the young age of 20! That lack of attention to detail bothered me. I can suspend my grasp of reality in other ways watching a movie, but at least get the timeline right!

3. The male characters were a bit one-dimensional. I didn’t get a real sense of any of the men, what they were like, or what attracted Donna to them. I do always enjoy watching Colin Firth, and he was very sweet in the movie.

The groom is similarly unknown. He’s gorgeous and English, and is a web designer (and played by the handsome Dominic Cooper who played Wickham in the recent BBC remake of "Pride and Prejudice"), but that’s about it. And one of the characters “discovers” he’s gay at the end of the movie? It’s all too pat and doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the movie (probably because of the one-dimensional business).

And the good:

1. The absolutely gorgeous scenery and setting—makes me want to hop on a plane immediately and fly off to a remote Greek island!

2. Fiftysomething romance! Heck, anybody older than 40 falling in love in a movie is rare nowadays! And Christine Baranski having a fling with a gorgeous, much-younger black man with dreads. I love it!

3. Meryl Streep. She is phenomenal. The New York Times said that this was her worst movie ever. I thought it showed a playful and soulful side of her…that we seldom get to see. Here is a link to a bunch of clips from the movie.

4. It makes me feel proud to be a woman. My favorite song in the movie was “Dancing Queen,” which was a great tribute to being female. Donna and her friends lead a parade of Greek women and others down to the dock, singing and dancing along. You’ll think me mushy, but it brought tears to my eyes.

5. And oh wow, do women know how to have fun! I think most people will agree that female friendship can be a powerful thing. And women are apt to form much closer, more intimate relationships with other women than men are able to do. But we also have more fun together! Mamma Mia! is a great tribute to the power—and pure fun!—of female friendships.

6. After blogging about it being a good thing that I don’t have any pink-loving daughters, one scene in the film did make me wistful that I don’t have a daughter. Donna helps Sophie get ready for her wedding by doing her hair and painting her toenails, while singing “Slipping through My Fingers.” It was a wonderful scene, and it did make me realize what I would never have with my sons. It’s just different. I’m lucky to have a close relationship with my sister and my mom—if I didn’t, I’d really feel lacking in the female family relationship arena. (Note the lack of pink in the movie, too!) Although the daughter is not nearly as fiercely independent or feisty as the mom...

7. The critics have made much of the fact that the singing is not professional quality, and they’ve especially skewered Pierce Brosnan’s musical abilities. While we’re at it, he has amazingly crooked teeth (typical British teeth, actually). But that’s another thing I liked about the movie. The singing wasn’t perfect—but it was genuine, full of soul and feeling, and felt more true to life than many musical films. It seemed more like they were real people who were singing.

8. I loved the scenes of Streep, Baranski, and Walters in their ABBA-like costumes, belting out the music. Who wouldn’t love to be in a film like that, especially dressed up like ABBA in the long boots and shiny costumes?

9. The scene of Meryl Streep running up the steep, candlelit steps to the church—what a setting! And her song to Pierce Brosnan, “The Winner Takes It All,” where she tells him that he lost his chance when he went off to marry someone else? Perfect!

10. The fun, energy, and the music! You’ll leave the theater singing ABBA for days, believe me!

The upshot is: if you like ABBA and if you are not afraid to tap your toes and sit back and enjoy an escape movie, you’ll probably like “Mamma Mia!” If you are a high-minded film goer, skip it. But you’ll be missing an experience.

I conclude that the critics are snobby grumps. So the movie wasn't perfect...but it was perfect fun. As for me, “Mamma Mia!” is one of those very rare films that I can’t wait to see again…and I just might break my “do not buy DVDs” vow, and actually purchase it!

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