Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Review: "Mamma Mia!"

Let me start out by saying that I love musicals. LOVE them. I love being in them, I love watching them, and I love this new film adaptations of Broadway musicals trend. Even if the shows don't translate to the screen very well, I've still loved them all for what they were, just out of my love for the show.

That is, until we got to Mamma Mia.

I really like the music, and I've been listening to the soundtrack nonstop for a couple of weeks now. But the movie just does not work. At all. It's so ineptly put together with such an amateurish aesthetic that I have to wonder if director Phyllida Lloyd (whose work up until now has been mostly stage) actually understands basic film form, because Mamma Mia doesn't have a single cinematic bone in its body.

I won't spend much time on the plot, because that isn't the point here.

On the eve of Sophie's (Amanda Seyfried) wedding, desperate to know who her father is, she invites three men from her mother's (Meryl Streep) past to attend to see if she can uncover which one is actually her father. That's pretty much it. Not that anyone should expect anything deeper than that. ABBA is the star of this movie, but Lloyd ruins some of the best numbers by cutting away from them for dialogue breaks, while the song continues faintly in the background, offscreen.

I wanted to like the film as much as I like its music, but I just couldn't. The transitions into the songs are awkward, the musical numbers are dull and stiffly staged, and the entire film has a garish, washed-out look to it that just doesn't seem to fit. Lloyd doesn't seem to realize that she is directing a film, not a stage production, and it shows in how flat and lifeless the numbers come across onscreen. Ideas that may look great on the stage end up being static and stilted on the big screen, as does Seyfried's overly blubbly performance, which seems more geared to a theater full of people than the intimacy of the camera.

In fact everyone in the movie acts like they need Ritalin. Streep is great as always, but the film around her is a manic mess, saved only by the music that is the key drawing point anyway. I just wish the numbers had lived up to the songs themselves, but the music seems far too big for what is going on in the story at the time.

The film also tries to be a tolerant romance by adding a token gay character, but then ignores his relationship completely. By the end of the film, everyone has paired up with someone else, but the gay character is given the least attention, almost as if the movie felt good about itself by including it, but felt that was enough and didn't take it any farther than that. That's all well and good, but I feel that we're at a point where movies shouldn't be scared of homosexuality, and if they're going to have a gay character they shouldn't treat him or her any differently than the other relationships in the film. But they do, and I think it's a glaring oversight.

But that's a minor quibble given the overall lack of quality on display here. It's just not the movie it should have been. It's awkward, unfocused, and strangely unpleasant. There's just something off-putting about the whole affair. It's not fun or carefree, it's just tacky - lost in a sea of clich├ęs and contrivances that somehow makes even its fantastic music lose its appeal.

GRADE - ** (out of four)

MAMMA MIA!; Directed by Phyllida Lloyd; Stars Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Amanda Seyfried, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters; Rated PG-13 for some sex-related comments

3 comments:

Daniel G. said...

Well your love of musicals might have been a bad thing here I guess. I'm a big fan of them but haven't seen enough to consider myself serious about them. As such, I was sucked in by the music and let most everything else go - not completely, but mostly.

Matthew Lucas said...

Maybe so. I kind of wish I had gone in cold without already knowing the music, because I didn't think they did it justice.

Pat said...

I am in total agreement with your review. I do think the director should stick to the stage. You can't just point a camera at people dancing and having fun, you've got to rethink a stage musical for film.