Friday, August 29, 2008

Mamma Mia! (review)

On a rainy Thursday night at the 6:30 show, six weeks after the local release of Mamma Mia, the theater was packed. There may have been a dozen men. I sat next to a little girl who was about 7, but the majority of the audience was middle-aged women.

And you can see why. At first blush, Mamma Mia is anti-Hollywood. It celebrates middle-aged women - Meryl Streep, the star, is 58. The three central women are single, empowered, and having as much giddy fun as when they were 20. In an archetypal middle-age woman's fantasy, the most gorgeous guy on the beach, the young bartender, is so gaga for 56 year old Christine Baranski that he's a pest.

Once I started to give it a bit more thought though, this was Hollywood through and through. None of us middle-aged women in the audience approached the incandescence of Meryl Streep, whose character epitomizes the free spirit who becomes more beautiful with age. None of us small-town Canadians have any connection to the fairy tale life of owning a beautiful old hotel on an idyllic Greek island. And the ending - pure Hollywood! But if it was Hollywood, it was Hollywood at its best.

Before I saw the film I read the extremely negative New Yorker review of Mamma Mia, and despite my thorough enjoyment of the film, I also love the review. The only time I can remember the New Yorker writing a snarkier review was for Miss Saigon. (That review had only four words: "The horror! The horror!") It's a real pity that the online version of the Mamma Mia! review is abridged because it drops some of the best lines. I think Anthony Lane said something like, "I shouldn't really be reviewing this movie because I only saw the first half. After that I buried my head in my hands."

I can see how someone who didn't get into the spirit of the thing would find the film pretty bad. They miked most of the singing in situ, rather than in a studio, and they didn't touch up the blemishes. Some of the actors, like Pierce Brosnan, are not the best singers. But I can't see how anyone would not get into the spirt of it. It's just so joyful and fun. I can't remember such an effective feel-good movie since I was a kid and saw Yellow Submarine.

Me, I always hated Abba, but I've been singing Dancing Queen all day and I still feel like spinning and skipping.


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