July 17, 2008

300 Words About: Mamma Mia!

"Everybody, look! There's a man watching this in the theater!"

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.


  1. Awww, I only get this in August :(

    And I really AM in the mood for it, and I love Streep....and almost the entire cast.

    But, I'll wait. Nice write-up man, "every flaw is conveniently covered over with countless sequins - and it works." Hehe, that's what I was hoping for.

  2. I was a fan of ABBA back in the day but find it hard to listen to one of their albums all the way through anymore, so I probably won't see this.

    PS - The Producers and Hairspray started life as movies. Both were then turned into stage musicals and then remade a movies (now how convoluted is that).

  3. I'm really looking forward to this, and I'm not expecting cinematic greatness,just a silly, good time. Based on your comments here, it looks like that's exactly what I'm going to get.

    (I confess, I listen to my Abba Gold CD on a semi-regular basis and hit the "replay" button for "Waterloo" way more often than a normal person should.)

  4. Thanks, Nick. I actually wasn't in the mood, but between all my eye-rolling I found that I couldn't stop tapping my feet to the music.

    It's funny, Marilyn, I would have previously said that being stranded on an island with ABBA music would also be the only way to appreciate it, but I have to admit that some of the songs I heard for the first time were halfway decent. You could find yourself reboarding the ABBA train to discoland...

    Thanks for pointing out those two examples as well. I'm sure they're not the only two. But is it just me or has this musical trend really picked up overall (not even including biopics) in the last decade?

    That is exactly what you're going to get, Pat. People's reactions will primarily depend on how silly they feel at the time. I'm surprised that there wasn't a lot of singing along, though, at the standing room-only preview screening I went to.

  5. Daniel - Those of us who are musicals fans hailed Chicago as the turning point. Rob Marshall and Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!) were our heroes. I also think the popularity of "American Idol" and the smash hit that was Broadway's production of The Producers had Hollywood seeing dollar signs again in this form. We still don't have enough musicals, but things are getting better.

    ABBA: favorites are "Take a Chance on Me," "Super Trouper," and "Knowing Me, Knowing You," anything that has that 80s Euro sound to it.

  6. It's long been a sign of hipster cred to knock down ABBA, but I think people get carried away.

    I was a little too young to appreciate them in their hey day, but I remember their songs very well. It's not the kind of thing I'd buy and listen to by choice, but they don't make me want to gouge my ear drums out either. They're catchy, inoffensive pop tunes. Completely harmless.

    I'm a little bit curious to see the movie mostly because it seems to be 'a thing' for a certain segment of the audience and I want to know what it's all about.

    More importantly, there's something about the movie's innocence that appeals to me. Though I practice sarcasm all the time, I'm tired of it. Irony is getting boring. A little bit of simple, honest, goofy fun is appealing to me.

  7. As much as I like a decent musical, I think I'll be spending my cinema allowance on TDK this weekend. Good write-up though, Daniel.

  8. Of the six musicals you mention in your opening sentence, Dan, I do myself like CHICAGO, DREAMGIRLS and SWEENEY TODD for varying reasons. Your "numbered words" review is a nice idea, and one that prevents you from getting carried away one way or the other. LOL!
    Seems like this was inoffensive fun, and these tunes, while cheesy have (stood) the test of time in a good way. Yes, some of them like DANCING QUEEN have their subcultures, while WATERLOO caught on almost immediately with the general public. FERNANDO is another one that has its adherents. I am older that Craig by better than a decade, so I remember them very well in their heydey.
    Some friends, who hated them back then, now have taken then as some kind of a mino-classic ensemble. Go figure.
    You failed to mention Webber's THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in that opening, I bet because Shumacker is a cursed word in these parts....hehehe!........I hope to "sneak into" MAMA MIA right after DARK KNIGHT tomorrow afternoon (I won't pay again, not seven tickets!) but it all depends if the film is playing on "the same side" (50-50) as TDK.
    Very nice work here, and more than fair.

  9. I knew Chicago was a touchpoint, but bringing "American Idol" into it makes a lot of sense as well. I haven't been really disappointed with these adaptations, so as long as they're done well I'm fine with more of them. I imagine Wicked, which I may be seeing for the 3rd time this fall (call me a 16 year-old girl if you like, ahem), must be on the way soon. Also, the team at Inside the Gold has been keeping tabs on the upcoming adaptation of Nine.

    As you mention the songs, I just have to point out somewhere in here that one of the ballads sung by Meryl Streep was absolutely horrid. You'll know it when you see it.

    I'm with you, Craig - this is the same target audience as Sex & The City (and not that it necessarily means anything, but the F:M ratio in the theater was about 10:1), but at least here I don't have to, um, deal with those characters...no offense to SATC fans.

    Thanks, Rachel. TDK must surely be the priority this weekend. Hope it's worth me staying up all night tonight.

    Thank you, Sam. This is about as close to 300 actual words as I think I've been in a looong time, haha, probably because there's not a whole lot to say. So long as you're OK with transitioning from the brooding Joker to a disco fantasy, I would say your strategy is sound!

    Regarding The Phantom, no that was simply an oversight - I only listed what I could think of off the top of my head, and it should be included (5 more words against my count, though, haha).

    Have I mentioned yet that "Dancing Queen" is a knockout (shown above)? Always nice when a movie set has more elements (and physical room) to use than a stage set - and those elements are used appropriately.

    Also, the end credits are probably a real treat for the die-hard ABBA fans...

  10. Not in a million years, amigo...

  11. I wish I knew an ABBA song and could quote witty lyrics back to you, Fletch.

    Instead, I'll just say that it's fairly harmless, but your money would be better spent seeing TDK again this weekend.

  12. ABBA is about a feeling. The songs are practically irrelevant. There's a sunshine that brims through them. As long as the film has that feeling, it can't be too bad.

  13. Funny that you mention the sunshine, KB. The screen is so saturated with color and light (and sequins) as to be virtually aglow at times, so much so that a pair of sunglasses could have come in handy.


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