Mamma Mia, What a Mess!

26 07 2008

“Mamma Mia!” 2008

Starring: Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth,

It was incredibly difficult to limit myself to two hundred words about “Mamma Mia!” for my submission to the paper. This film was so spectacularly bad from beginning to end, and had so many cringe-inducing moments that it is difficult to decide which disasters to focus on.

Because it is a film adaptation of a popular Broadway musical, I suppose I could start by addressing the music. “Mamma Mia,” is a story built around a soundtrack of songs by the curiously popular 70s pop band ABBA. When I saw the film, I’d never heard many of the songs before (with the exception of such high school dance classics as “Dancing Queen” and “Take a Chance on Me”). There might actually have been some chance of my liking the music if any single character could carry a tune. Sophie, played by Amanda Seyfried, was adequate. The rest of the cast was appallingly bad. Meryl Streep (Donna) is one of the most gifted actresses of her time. Is it too much to ask that she stick to what she does best?

The entire plot depended on a series of deceptions Sophie cooked up in an attempt to uncover the identity of her biological father. Apparently, Donna was busy the summer she conceived Sophie, as there are three possible candidates for fatherhood.

I would like to point out something that continued to bother me throughout the film. The timeline of past events was exasperatingly confusing. Sophie is 20 years old, and because the story occurs in the present, we can assume that she was born sometime in the late 1980s. Donna and her fellow Dynamos (three women who comprised a singing trio pre-motherhood) are clearly pushing sixty, which would have made Donna nearly forty when she gave birth. But the flashbacks would like us to believe that Donna was a carefree young woman in her twenties the summer she rendezvoused with bachelors one, two, and three. To make matters worse (and tremendously more confusing), Donna and her friends don the costumes they once performed in as a pop group popular right around the time Donna became pregnant, complete with platform go-go boots and bell-bottomed one-piece pantsuits that could only have been a product of the fashion-challenged 70s. But the old photos Sophie manages to dig up of her potential Daddies seem to evoke a 1980s punk-rock style of dress. When the hell was this kid conceived?

Back to Sophie’s devious little plans. She’s getting married, and would like her real father to give her away. So she lures three strangers to the Greek Island where her mother has carved out a rickety little living for herself and her daughter as a hotel owner and caretaker (although it doesn’t look like Donna takes care of much, by the way the place seems to crumble around her). Each character continually tells half-truths (more like quarter-truths) that prevent anyone from knowing exactly what is going on at any given time. If everyone just came clean about their motives and circumstances, there would be no problems. There would also be no story, and the film could have neatly wrapped itself up in about ten to fifteen minutes (this would have been tolerable, and an improvement).

One more complaint, then I’m finished. I promise.

If I am not mistaken, I believe that the ABBA songs featured in “Mamma Mia!” were composed long before the play was written. The plot was essentially built around the songs, with a storyline that made each one at least partially relevant. But several numbers seemed uncomfortably wedged into the rest of the play, and could easily have been removed. Anything to get us out of that theater a few precious moments sooner.

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