July 17, 2008
Since 2000, Hollywood appears to be stuck in an endless cycle of Broadway musical adaptations: Chicago, Rent, Hairspray, Dreamgirls, Sweeney Todd, The Producers, and so on. New musicals open each year, so how can you stop adapting them?
It's a rhetorical question. For the most part I love Broadway musicals, and for the most part I'm indifferent to their movie adaptations, the exception being Rent - which I absolutely loved.
I never saw "Mamma Mia!", so the film version was my first exposure to the musical featuring the songs of ABBA. I went with an open mind, expecting a sing-along crowd and some cringe-worthy silliness from Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgård.
A funny thing happened: I discovered I was not only familiar with more ABBA songs than I realized, but a few of the ones I didn't know actually weren't that bad. I wish I could say the same, however, about the ridiculous story of a fateful wedding and family reunion on a Greek island. Only if you were stranded on such an island with an ABBA album on repeat could you conjure up this campy disco fantasy (who knows - that may well have been what happened). Speaking of the island, there doesn't seem to be an ethnicity, accent, or shade of blue that's not represented, to a distracting degree.
If you're in the mood for pure musical silliness and a movie that can make fun of itself, you'll love Mamma Mia!. If you're not in the mood, well you might end up liking it despite yourself. Even when you have to endure Pierce Brosnan straining for the highest notes of a love ballad, there's always a shiny up-tempo song right behind it. The whole movie kind of works in that way: every flaw is conveniently covered over with countless sequins - and it works.