Friday, December 26, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 12/26/08

New movies are usually released to theaters every Friday, but who’s got 10 bucks these days to drop on a movie that may well be a load of crap? Given those odds, each Friday I offer an alternative on DVD that you can rent at your local video store (or in some cases, avoid at all costs). Some will be new releases, others you may have to hunt for, but all of them are available to light up your small screen should it be a lazy Friday night.

Mamma Mia!

Perhaps the best way I can explain Mamma Mia! to you is to call it the best musical I’ve ever seen based on the music of a quasi-obscure European 70’s pop band. For some of you, that may well be enough to go pick it up. If it’s not, then I’m afraid I don’t have much else to offer you here. Heather got the DVD for her mom (who loved it) for Christmas, and so we all sat down and watched it last night. While it didn’t seem like it would be my cup-o-tea, I went in with an open mind. After all, I do like musicals, and the movie adaptations of Phantom of the Opera and Chicago are fantastic. Mamma Mia!, not so much.

Based on the music of ABBA, Mamma Mia! tells the story of a young bride-to-be named Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) who lives with her mom, Donna (Meryl Streep), helping her to run a hotel on a Mediterranean island in Greece. She desperately wants to have her father give her away at her wedding, but there’s a problem – she doesn’t know who her father is. After reading her mom’s diary, she comes up with three possibilities - Sam (Pierce Brosnan), an architect, Harry (Colin Firth), an uptight banker, and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), and adventurer and writer. Unbeknownst to her mom, she sends each of them an invitation to the wedding, certain that she can figure out who her real dad is before the ceremony. When they all show up, the entire event is thrown into a tailspin.

The premise is entertaining enough, and all the actors (Brosnan, Firth, and Skarsgård especially) do a capable job of making it fun. The music is almost annoyingly catchy (I dare you to get “Dancing Queen” out of your head in less than an hour), and the light and campy tone, while a bit much, keeps this in a ballpark in which it can be an enjoyable musical. Therein, however, lies the problem. This is a musical...and nobody can sing. The producers seemingly decided to cast the film with name actors rather than actors with musical talent, and it shows, sometimes painfully. Seyfried is the best voice in the bunch, but when everybody else belts out a number, you can’t help but notice that they’re at best decidedly average. Brosnan, much as I like him, is absolutely awful. I mean, really, really bad. After seeing the movie, I decided to check out a few reviews and see if anyone else was thinking the same thing, and this quote from critic Matt Brunson pretty much sums it up – “[Brosnan] looks physically pained choking out the lyrics, as if he's being subjected to a prostate exam just outside of the camera's eye.” It’s that bad. Most of the rest of the cast are varying degrees of mediocre, but that’s just not good enough when the draw of the film is its music. There were several moments when I thought, “Huh, that’s catchy,” but none where I thought, “Wow, that’s really good.” That just doesn’t cut it. Director Phyllida Lloyd, whose previous work was confined to the stage, doesn’t seem to realize that this is a movie and not a Broadway production, with her cast painfully overacting at points.

Look, I understand that I’m not the target audience for this film. My mother-in-law assures me that at the screening she attended, the entire theater (mainly middle-aged women) was dancing during the credits. If you’re a fan of ABBA or musicals and this looks fun to you, by all means, take a look. It wasn’t boring, and it was, at times, entertaining. However, where it lacked, it lacked in areas that a good musical simply cannot lack. That, at the end of the day, is what kills it for me. But hey – I took a chance. - ** (out of four)

Mamma Mia! is rated PG-13 for some sex-related comments.

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