I have a confession to make that could land me in serious trouble here. I love this movie with a love bordering on the unnatural. Of course, I hear you saying, that can only mean one thing; you're a gay man of a certain age and if you haven't come out of the closet already. you're coming out now, and wearing sequins at the same time. No straight man, I hear you say, could love this movie with this kind of unbridled passion, so if you have aspirations to being a 100% red-blooded heterosexual male, (is there such a thing?), then keep any fondness for "Mama Mia" to yourself; you will automatically be suspect. Of course, I could just as easily be a teenage girl, (it's a chick flick, after all), and be in equally serious difficulties with my peers, for loving "Mama Mia" would then mean I had already turned into my mother, for this is a chick flick for the older chick and no mistake.
I had avoided it on stage. I have never been a fan of 'juke-box' musicals where a plot is conjured up around a set of songs by a well-known group or artist. And my undiminished love of Abba, (there, I'm out of the closet - happy now?), made me shy away from, rather than run to, a show where their greatest hits were sung, karaoke-style, by others. But something drew me to the movie. Perhaps it was Meryl, (if Meryl liked it, it can't be that bad, I kept saying to myself). Perhaps it was the locations, (it all takes place on a very travelogue Greek isle). Perhaps, ultimately, it was the songs, (who isn't a dancing queen, after all). Nevertheless, going to "Mama Mia", the movie, was still like dipping my toe in the water before deciding if I wanted to do a full length of the pool. The last thing I expected was to fall head over heels, to turn into a blubbering mess, to turn into the oldest dancing queen on the block and into my mother all at the same time. "Mama Mia" is a guilty pleasure, (no self-respecting cineaste should ever admit to even liking this movie, never mind loving it), but as guilty pleasures go, this is the best junk meal you are ever likely to have.
It's director, Phyllida Law, did it on the stage so at least she is familiar with the material, but she is new to movies and after the mess Susan Stroman made of "The Producers" I didn't really expect anything, but while "The Producers" was stagey,(and not in an appealing way), "Mama Mia" is genuinely cinematic. Lloyd's idea of film-making may be to let her camera roam all over the place, (she seems to have an MTV mentality), but she also knows how to build a production number. This is a fully-fledged musical of the old school. And now I am beginning to see the light. It's OK, guys, you can admit to liking "Mama Mia" without worrying too much about revealing your sexuality. Straight men are allowed to like musicals, too, aren't they? Then, of course, there are those songs, the ones we grew up loving. I read somewhere that Abba didn't write great songs because no-one covered them, unlike, say, Lennon and McCartney; that what made Abba's songs 'great' was the Abba sound. There may be something in that; the 'Abba sound' produced some of the greatest pop ever. Arguably, the songs that Abba, (and by Abba, I mean Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson), wrote and recorded are the greatest pop songs we've been given. So how do they work coming from the mouths of people who, effectively, aren't singers? (Ok, Meryl, we all know you can sing and act and probably split the atom at the same time, and the girl who plays her daughter, Amanda Seyfried, sounds very pleasant to the ear). Well, the answer is bloody marvelous. Most of these songs sound as if they were written for the film and not the other way round; in other words, they fit the plot in the way that songs in a good musical should and they are good enough to stand on their own.
These are Broadway show-tunes and they aren't wholly reliant on 'the Abba sound'. So what if Julie Walters and Stellan Skarsgard croak their way through 'Take a Chance on Me'; by the time they get around to it I would have taken a chance on anyone. So Pierce Brosnan can't sing? Neither can Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen and yet we love them to bits. (Actually, Brosnan can just about manage to hold a tune and he makes a fairer fist of it than Lee Marvin or Clint Eastwood did in "Paint your Wagon"). And Meryl, of course, is wonderful. Our greatest living actress is having fun here. This is her first fully-fledged musical: I just wondered what took her so long, (her rendition of 'The Winner takes it All' is one of the great solo performances in any musical).
But does any of this justify my over-whelming and totally inexplicable passion? Probably not, which is why it is inexplicable. It's not a 'great' movie, (although it could just be a 'great' musical); it often feels like a bunch of friends' best ever holiday video where they keep bursting into song with fully orchestrated backing, and it gives a totally new meaning to the term 'Greek Chorous'. So, obviously I am a middle-aged gay man with a full wardrobe of seventies gear. (I certainly haven't turned into my mother!). I mean, what other explanation can there be? Oh, I've just thought of one. It is a great movie musical and it's a terrific way to spend an evening. So I can now safely go back into my closet if I can find room among all the sequins and seventies gear.
76 out of 130 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote!