Monday, February 15, 2010

Chris 2010 Viewings #21: Mamma Mia!

UK, 2008. Directed by Phyllida Law. Starring Amanda Seyfried, Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Christine Baranski, Stellan Skarsgard.

I'm increasingly fascinated by major stars taking roles in retreads of material they would never have taken part in back when the material was fresh. For example, I feel very sure that Liam Neeson would never have appeared in an episode of "The A Team" back in the 80s, but there he is taking George Peppard's role in the sure-to-be-fabulous big screen version. And back when ABBA were doing their spandex-clad thing in stadiums worldwide I don't imagine a big screen musical based on their song catalogue would have lured the young Meryl Streep to bypass Sophie's Choice or, hell, even Plenty.

But there she is in this movie, belting out the Andersson/Ulvaeus songbook with complete abandon, apparently loving every minute of it. So something rather fascinating has happened to the division between high culture and kitsch in the last 20 years. The general lack of good roles for actresses of Streep's age bracket may have something to do with it, though it hasn't stopped her from picking up her first Oscar nomination in a while this year (for Julie and Julia), and it still doesn't explain Neeson. The next few years should be fascinating, especially once we've run out of grade-A shows like "The A Team" to reboot and have to move on to the likes of "Manimal" and musicals based on the M.C. Hammer songbook.

Of course ABBA are miles better than Hammer, and their brand of cheerful pop lends itself rather well to something like Mamma Mia, where the plot is so insubstantial that no five minutes of movie pass without a new hit everyone knows starting up. It keeps the movie going at a decent clip, never really becoming boring even for someone like me who only saw it because the girls were watching. It's not a good movie by any acceptable definition, but it has a lot of spirit, helped both by the wise selection of catchy songs (except for two or three deep cuts and the inexcusible absence of "Knowing Me, Knowing You") and enthusiastic performances. Even when the performances and vocal performances made me cringe, I was filled with a lot of admiration for name actors being willing to sacrifice their dignity so ruthlessly onscreen. For that reason, even though Streep gives far and away the best performance, my MVP award goes to Pierce Brosnan, saddled with a singing voice only a deaf person could love, but who nonetheless puts it all out there at every opportunity and remains immensely likable in spite of, and because of it.

No comments: