Mamma Mia!

Movie Information

The Story: A young bride invites the three men who had flings with her mother to her wedding in hopes of determining which is her father. The Lowdown: Your fondness -- or lack thereof -- for ABBA songs will likely determine your tolerance for this shrill film version of the hit stage musical cobbled together from the pop group's music.
Score:
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Genre: Musical
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Starring: Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski
Rated: PG-13

There are people out there who will not merely love this film version of the popular stage musical Mamma Mia!, but who will adore it. I wish them the joy of it. Look, if you’re keen on ABBA and actually like a lot—I mean a whole lot—of people singing and dancing (not necessarily very well), squealing with spurious delight, and wearing hearty fake smiles in an attempt to convince you that they’re having a Great Time and you should be, too, this is your movie. Enjoy it and read no further.

I don’t actively dislike ABBA, though I certainly never took the Swedish pop-music act seriously. They fell into the category of “inanely catchy”—not good, but not bad enough to start fiddling with the radio dial. In context, ABBA songs can work pretty well—see The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) and Muriel’s Wedding (1995). The Mamma Mia!-style ending of Priscilla is a magnificent celebration of friendship, family (in more than one sense of the word) and community. It is, in fact, exactly the kind of life-affirming, joyous experience that the film Mamma Mia! tries so desperately to be—and at which it fails so miserably. It fails because it insists the songs are more than finely tooled pop tunes. It fails because it doesn’t grasp Noel Coward’s observation: “Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.” But it fails, most of all, because it’s such an awful movie from nearly every angle.

Let’s start with the plot. OK, so plots aren’t exactly what musicals are known for, but is it too much to hope for that they make even marginal sense? The backstory is that Donna (Meryl Streep) had three closely spaced romantic trysts—with Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Harry (Colin Firth) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgard)—resulting in the birth of Sophie (Amanda Seyfried). The problem is that Donna herself doesn’t know which one is the father, and Sophie—now 20 and about to be married—really wants to know who her father is. Even if you are willing to accept the idea that 20 years ago Meryl Streep was a wild young lady of 20, there’s still something wrong with the timeline of events. Ludicrous flashbacks to Messrs. Brosnan, Firth and Skarsgard in hippie drag and references to “flower power” would suggest these couplings took place around 1968. That would either make Sophie 40 years old, or indicate that Donna had a gestation period that would give an elephant cause for pause.

There are other peculiar scripting notions. There’s a scene between Harry and Bill that comes pretty much out of nowhere and is obviously trying to convey something, but ends up being mostly confusing. I think the scene is about Harry either “coming out” to Bill, or Bill thinking Harry is trying to. Vindication about Harry’s sexual orientation comes reels later—if you look fast and see him hooked up with another man in the climactic number (well, one of the climactic numbers, since the movie doesn’t know when to quit).

But back to the “plot.” Donna has settled on the same Greek island (mythical home of “Aphrodite’s Spring,” which makes a return appearance as what looks suspiciously like a burst water main) where her virtue was compromised 20 (or 40) years ago. On this island, Donna runs a crumbling hotel: Shutters fall to earth with near-murderous results; the plumbing doesn’t work; fresh paint is unknown; and, perhaps worst of all, Donna announces, “I have a crack in my courtyard” (but let’s not go there). Into this come her three ex-swains, invited to Sophie’s wedding by the bride herself, who attempts to hide the trio in “the old goat house” (we never see the new goat house, but a goat gooses Donna during the “Mamma Mia” number, so the herd is still around.) Mirth ensues.

All this silliness is supposed to lead to the discovery of Sophie’s father. The answer’s a lemon, of course, and none of it seems much more than an excuse to string a bunch of ABBA’s greatest hits on the soundtrack (and some non-hits to fill in). This might’ve worked if the songs had actually been integrated into the story, but they mostly feel only loosely connected—if at all—to the proceedings. Dance routines are jaw-droppingly bad—fulfilling one of the reasons people give when they say they don’t like musicals. The singing ranges from pretty good in the case of Streep to the level of “What was that?” in the case of Brosnan. (Burt Reynolds’ attempts at vocalizing in At Long Last Love have at long last been vindicated by sheer relativity.)

It’s occasionally possible to see what was being attempted. The “Dancing Queen” number is supposed to be a rallying cry to middle-aged women to find their inner 17-year-old. That’s a nice idea, but director Phyllida Lloyd (who also helmed the stage show) has such a heavy hand—and zero sense of fantasy—that she crushes it with one smack and then drowns its writhing corpse with the movie’s signature forced cheeriness. Except in moments of faux drama, everyone smiles as if determined to justify massive dental bills. To assure us they’re having fun, the women don’t talk, but scream and squeal constantly (I’ve been to hog neuterings that were tranquil by comparison). Unless you buy into this ersatz jubilance and its grim determination to make you feel good, you’re apt to long for a tranquilizer gun by the 20-minute mark. After that, you may want heavier firepower.

Yet for all of this, I am forced to admit that I’ve revisited several stretches of the movie two or three times since my first viewing. I know it’s not good, but something compels me to watch the damned thing. Occasionally, I’ll think, “This is actually pretty clev—,” but the thought gets obliterated before I can finish the word. So what draws me back? Beats me. But I resent the hell out of it. Rated PG-13 for some sex-related comments.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

40 thoughts on “Mamma Mia!

  1. Ken Hanke

    I looked in on this again tonight (no, I still don’t know what the draw is, but it’s almost mesmerizing), and I have to report that I saw something that amazed me — an entire audience dancing and singing to a movie. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. (Now, family history has it that in 1957 I did a mean Elvis impression in the aisle of the Gem Theater in Kannapolis, but I have no memory of this undoubtedly noteworthy event. And one three-year-old doesn’t come close to being an entire theater.) The nearest I’ve ever come to witnessing anything like this was at the 2005 film festival with the 30th anniversary screening of Tommy. But this…this was truly remarkable.

    This doesn’t by any means change my opinion of the movie itself. But any movie capable of producing this kind of response is tapping into some need. So unless you just hate musicals in general or ABBA in particular, you might want to give this a shot. I’ve had several people tell me that they knew it was a bad movie — even a dreadful one — but that they didn’t care, because they’d had such a good time watching it and it made them happy. That’s kind of hard to argue with. And I’m not sure I’d want to.

  2. The hype surrounding this movie had me seeing dollar signs in my eyes. I’m currently working on a story treatment for a “jukebox musical” loosely threading a purposely hackneyed and insipid storyline with the music of Journey.

  3. Ken Hanke

    I’m currently working on a story treatment for a “jukebox musical” loosely threading a purposely hackneyed and insipid storyline with the music of Journey.

    You could use this storyline to explore my theory that Journey, Asia, Foreigner, Boston, and possibly Air Supply are in reality the same group.

  4. Justin Souther

    Watching this movie was like getting hit in the face with a frying pan while someone continually asks you if you’re having fun yet.

    And if you really want to rip-off Mama Mia!, you might want to consider going with the songs of Ace of Base.

  5. Dionysis

    “an entire audience dancing and singing to a movie. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”

    While I have no interest in seeing this film, the dancing and singing comment reminds me of the one time I witnessed (indeed, participated) in such an expression. I attended a late-night showing of the Talking Heads concert film STOP MAKING SENSE at an art repertory theatre in Norfolk, VA many years ago and the entire audience went nuts, dancing, gyrating and storming the stage (the theatre has a big stage where they would sometimes have live musicians accompany silent film showings). It was better than an actual rock concert.

  6. Ken Hanke

    It’s been done.

    Wow! It’s better than the real movie and the band!

  7. Tonberry

    This movie brought me back years ago, when I had to endure CiCi’s Pizza with the church crowd.

    And Pierce Brosnan singing is perhaps the weirdest and strangest thing I have seen all year.

    Sorry Indy 4.

  8. ishy1961

    Granted it’s a less than Grade A flick, but as far as feel-good chick flix go, I gotta admit it worked. All I heard afterwards from everyone in the place was positive. Perhaps my standards aren’t as high as everyone else’s, I admittedly like feel-good movies. I Liked Wall-E too!

    Good Date Movie.

  9. Ken Hanke

    And Pierce Brosnan singing is perhaps the weirdest and strangest thing I have seen all year.

    Well, it’s certainly the least appealing sound I’ve heard all year!

  10. Ken Hanke

    Granted it’s a less than Grade A flick, but as far as feel-good chick flix go, I gotta admit it worked. All I heard afterwards from everyone in the place was positive.

    And that’s what I’ve been saying. This movie’s not for me. (Okay, I’ll admit again that I’m weirdly drawn to it.) It’s not for most people I know. But for the people it is for, it’s remarkable.

  11. Daphne

    ‘ Ludicrous flashbacks to Messrs. Brosnan, Firth and Skarsgard in hippie drag and references to “flower power” would suggest these couplings took place around 1968. That would either make Sophie 40 years old, or indicate that Donna had a gestation period that would give an elephant cause for pause.’

    Or maybe, this musical isn’t set in the present year of 2008? Have you even entertained the idea that perhaps it was set 10 or 20 years ago? :)

  12. Ken Hanke

    Or maybe, this musical isn’t set in the present year of 2008? Have you even entertained the idea that perhaps it was set 10 or 20 years ago?

    Yes, except that the cars in the opening scenes aren’t from 10 or 20 years ago and the reference to how the hotel’s business will be booming once they get their website up and running is at least too modern for the 20 year mark and pushing it a bit (as that strong a force) prior to the 21st century.

  13. nick s

    “I have to report that I saw something that amazed me—an entire audience dancing and singing to a movie. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”

    I wish I’d been there, because I think that’s the only kind of audience that would make it bearable. (The Cinebarre is made for it.) There’s a certain amount of precedent — the monthly singalonga-Sound of Music in London — where you’ll see people dressing up as nuns and von Trapps.

    http://www.singalonga.net/soundofmusic/

    That’s just down the road from the Mamma Mia! stage show in London. I’ve seen what happens at interval, as the tourists and seniors emerge to realise they’re on Old Compton Street, the heart of gay Soho.

    The Rocky Horror Picture Show is in that vein, too. What do they have in common? Camp as a row of pink tents.

  14. Steve

    OK, I loved the movie, but then I’m a huge Abba fan, and have been for a long time. I first heard of them when my mother’s second husband passed on a second-hand 45 of (of course) “Dancing Queen”. That became one of my favorites, and I listened to it over and over again on the little portable record-player in my room. Of course I was just a kid, and didn’t know who did the song or anything. I just knew I liked it, and that it spoke to me.

    When I was in about 8th grade, a friend’s mother passed her old copy of Voulez Vous to me, and I was hooked. Immediately. I played that album over and over until my parents were just sick of hearing it. I saved my money and used it to buy other albums of theirs. I can still remember seeing a laserdisc demo at the mall where they showed a video of “Money, Money, Money”. I was mesmerized. This was before Abba became cool again. This was when they were considered cheesy has-beens. All I knew was that their music spoke to me as few other things had in my life. My dad was just totally confused. When I would come home after scoring yet another Abba album, he would be like, “Why are you buying that stuff, son? That’s OLD music.” Either he was totally lost, or he was hoping it didn’t mean what he suspected it did. Which of course it did. I was a big ole future Dancing Queen myself.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed the movie. Was it hackneyed? Yes. Were some of the song transitions painful artifice? Yes. And Pierce Brosnan shouldn’t even sing in the shower – but his ass still looks smashing in a pair of jeans, I have to admit. It was really obvious that Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, and Meryl Streep were having a ball making it, and equally as obviously following the story but taking it none too seriously. They are patently fully aware they are doing camp, which invites you to have fun with it too. Of course, Meryl Streep could read the phone book and it would be entertaining. The scenery was gorgeous – the Greek tourism board should have subsidized the movie. The clothes were lovely, and they loaded the really Greek chorus with loads of beautiful eye candy. Lovely Greek men who could dance, but were still hunky and hot. And ABBA songs thick on the ground, of course. If you could get through the opening bars of the songs, the backup singers and music swelled to the point that they could have had a braying donkey in the midst of it and it would have sounded fine. Meryl, although no Barbra, held her own on the vocals very well, and Julie Walters has a surprisingly good voice. But then I think she has some musical theater in her background – I’m not sure. Christine Baranski’s voice is passable, but not since Marilyn Monroe has a woman threaded her way through a lathered group of male backup dancers with such aplomb. Her number is absolutely charming, and you won’t care about her less-than-sterling pipes. Promise.

    I haven’t come out of a movie feeling so good in a long time.

  15. Ken Hanke

    It was really obvious that Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, and Meryl Streep were having a ball making it, and equally as obviously following the story but taking it none too seriously. They are patently fully aware they are doing camp, which invites you to have fun with it too.

    I’m always a little skeptical of the idea that because someone had fun making something, it will translate into fun for the viewer. Moreover, I’m not even sure I agree, especially as concerns Streep who sings “The Winner Takes It All” (as someone who liked the movie noted) “as if she thought it was Ibsen.” I didn’t ever feel like I was being invited to have fun, I felt like I was being ordered to — and I didn’t.

    I don’t begrudge anyone the apparent joy they’re getting out of this movie. In fact, I think it’s a fine thing that they are, but I completely do not get it. But then I never “got” ABBA in the first place.

  16. Steve

    Well the target audience here was gay men and middle-aged women who are rabid Abba fans. I can understand how anyone not in this group would have found the movie less than charming. There were definite flaws, and it could have been a much better movie.

    They were over the top – Julie Walters chewed scenery throughout. That’s camp. Meryl Streep was a bit much in the pre-wedding scene, but perhaps she was just trying to add some depth to a woman who before the “Slipping through my fingers” number (which even I will admit was pure schmaltz) had been fairly superficial. It was a contrast to the rest of the movie, but I would fault the director more for not reining her in some than I would Streep. She’s an actress. She’s gonna show off her chops if she gets the chance.

    I can understand that sometimes the fun the cast is having doesn’t extend to the audience. I just felt that it did in this case. These women are three of my favorites, for whom I was willing to cut a lot of slack – even casting non-singing actors in a musical, which is usually a big peave of mine. But this felt like a visit with old friends to me. I’ve loved Julie Walters ever since “Personal Services”.

  17. Ken Hanke

    Well the target audience here was gay men and middle-aged women who are rabid Abba fans.

    I sincerely hope you aren’t saying that gay men and middle-aged women automatically qualify as ABBA fans, because that’s certainly not the case.

    They were over the top – Julie Walters chewed scenery throughout. That’s camp.

    No, that’s just overacting. Marlene Dietrich saying, “It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily” is camp. A Busby Berkeley production number is camp. Charles Laughton playing Nero or Dr. Moreau is camp. Harvey Fierstein singing “Love for Sale” is camp. For me, this was more like an embarassment, especially when she turns into a kind of desperate Stellan Skarsgard stalker in the last reel. That I found creepy.

    The thing is I have liked nearly the whole cast — well, Baranski not so much — in other things. Sometimes I’ve liked them a lot.

    Yes, I’d blame the director more than Streep, though I would have thought so intelligent an actress wouldn’t literally claw at the screen to make me think she’s having a good time, or mistake ABBA lyrics for profound dialogue. But then the director can be blamed for so much — like making everybody run out on a pier and form a bad chorus line. Once was bad, twice was appalling.

    Thing is I generally like musicals. (And I ain’t the straightest arrow in the quiver, come to that.) I wanted to like this. And I just didn’t.

  18. Steve

    I didn’t mean to imply that all gay men and middle aged women were Abba fans. That was intended as a qualifier – a subset of the group.

    Busby Berkeley is camp now, but wasn’t when it was made. I don’t think camp should rely upon a) taking itself seriously originally; or b) laughing at something with perspective they didn’t have when it was made. I think camp can be made intentionally – otherwise we would have no John Waters movies.

    That said, I hate to be discriminatory, but camp is hard for straight people to do. It takes a light touch. That’s why “Blazing Saddles”, considered by many to be a comedy iconic movie, has never held any real appeal to me. Maybe they were just out of their dept at what they were trying to do.

    I adore Christine Baranski. I loved her in Cybill, I loved her in Jeffrey. I even loved her in the awful Cruel Intentions. Even though she basically plays the same character in everything she’s in, she does it well.

    I took Walters’ schtick at the end as a burlesque on the traditional man-hungry woman from the 50′s movies who’s out to “trap her a man”. I watched with my tongue in my cheek. But then I could have been reading too much into it.

  19. Ken Hanke

    I think camp can be made intentionally – otherwise we would have no John Waters movies.

    That’s pretty much the reason I added Harvey Fierstein singing “Love for Sale” to the list. It can indeed be done intentionally. I just don’t think this is an example of it.

    I wouldn’t, by the way, called Blazing Saddles camp, but neither would I say that camp needs a light touch. I’d hardly call Waters a filmmaker with a light touch.

    At the same time, Mamma Mia! really doesn’t come off as camp to me, but it certainly qualifies as kitsch, which is related, but not quite the same thing. I’d feel better about the whole movie if I thought it was deliberate kitsch — that the costumes were deliberately ugly and unflattering, that the choreography was deliberately anemic and uninspired, etc. But I never get that feeling. Am I supposed to laugh at a chorus line of guys in flippers? Am I meant to find Meryl Streep playing air guitar amusing? I can’t tell, and as a result, it makes me cringe. There’s something just wrong with Phyllida Lloyd’s direction for me — like she doesn’t understand that this is awfully silly and she doesn’t trust the material (or maybe the audience). I think what she lacks is, in fact, a light touch. She does a few things I like — the quick intercut to the guy playing the piano on the waterside and the old peasant woman who throws away her bundle with an “Oh, yeah” in “Dancing Queen,” but they’re too fleeting. This is what I was talking about when I said my mind wouldn’t be able to complete the though “that’s clever” before the movie did something jarring.

    I don’t even remember Baranski in Jeffrey, but then most of what I remember about Jeffrey rests on Patrick Stewart. I mostly remember her from Chicago, which is a movie I like a little less with each passing year.

    Again, I’m not in the least trying to persuade you or anyone else to dislike this movie. If anything, I’m trying to understand its appeal.

    I’d be curious to know — if you’re so inclined –what your top 5 or 10 musical films are. That might actually clarify where you’re coming from on this. (Or it might baffle me completely.)

  20. Steve

    I loved Chicago, just because it was like being at a stage show. Not innovative, I know, but it wasn’t really like a movie to me. I liked Baranski in it, and it was a different type of role for her, but I felt it kind of disemboweled that character to actually have Mary Sunshine played by a woman. So I had mixed feelings about that.

    I read another review of Mama Mia that said this wasn’t really a movie, it was an entertainment. That worked for me, but you don’t seem to have been terribly entertained.

    Wow, I am super flattered that you would even care about my favorite anything Ken. That’s a tough list.

    I’m going to be embarrassed, but I’ll be honest. There is no way for me to rank these in any kind of order.

    My Fair Lady – even with the non-musical Mr Harrison in the lead – but I loved him as Julius Caesar too.

    Dreamgirls – I loved the music long before I saw the movie, but the movie blew me away. I own it, and it doesn’t suffer from repeat viewings.

    Best Little Whorehouse in Texas – just fun. Would have been much better without Burt Reynolds trying to sing.

    Rocky Horror – fun fun fun

    Xanadu – just awful I know, but I love the camp (or kitch if you will). I love the cartoon part where the little Olivia bird has legwarmers on.

    Chicago – I did love this movie, and I own it. I watched it again last weekend as a matter of fact. I thought Gere did a pretty good job. I could sit through the whole thing just for the “Roxie” number.

    Footlight Parade – just because the numbers are so ridiculously over the top. I love that these are supposed to be going in a movie theater – before the movie. How long would it take to clear the stage and clean up after “By the Waterfall” alone? I also loved the “In the Money” number from Gold Diggers of 1933. I can see 42nd Street and recognize it as the best work Busby Berkeley did, but it’s too dark for me to love.

    Grease – now that I’m older, Stockard Channing’s Rizzo is my favorite character. In the “family friendly” movies, I always love that the central message to young girls in this one is if that they want to get the guy, they have to act like a ho.

    Sound of Music – my first. The kids are a bit too cute in some places for me now. But you gotta love Julie Andrews.

    Gypsy with Rosalind Russell is certainly not least. She is amazing.

    Cabaret made a huge impact on me the first time I saw it, but it’s too dark for me to enjoy now. I always feel like I need to shower afterwards.

    I loathed South Pacific, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and can’t forgive them for casting Lucille Ball in the musical version of Mame when Rosalind was in the SPOKEN version? I love Lucy, but my God, why not just cast a toad-frog?

    I loved the music in Victor/Victoria, but I don’t really consider that a musical – there wasn’t enough music. That big dead scene in the middle with the sneaking in and out of hotel rooms always pisses me off too. It’s WAY too long.

  21. Steve

    Perhaps “light” was the wrong term to use for camp. Maybe deft would have been better. John Waters is very deft at riding the line between “campily awful” and “truly awful” (at least for me). That takes skill. And yet I still can’t make it through “Mondo Trasho”.

  22. Steve

    Oh Geez, I knew I was going to leave some important ones out:

    Funny Girl – the end just kills me, and I loved “Don’t Rain on My Parade”

    Funny Lady – Love the montage of numbers they do for the shows. “Million Dollar Baby” is great, and “Great Day” is just amazingly gorgeous.

    Hello Dolly – She was too young, but Carol Channing’s charm wouldn’t have carried her voice in the movie the way it did on stage. Some of the numbers with the guys are kind of bad, but she’s so wonderful in “So Long, Dearie” it makes up for all.

  23. Ken Hanke

    Wow, I am super flattered that you would even care about my favorite anything Ken.

    I can’t see why I wouldn’t be interested. You seem to be a reasonable, well-spoken person and aren’t screaming for my head because I dared not to like Mamma Mia!. (I’ve gotten some letters that were, shall we say, rather less reasonable.)

    Then too, your list puts into perspective the fact that your overriding interest seems to be more musical theatre than film musicals. I don’t actively dislike any of the titles on your list — at least those I’ve seen, since I’ve managed to avoid Best Little Whorehouse and Xanadu. However, the only titles that come anywhere near my own list would be Footlight Parade (and Golddiggers of 1933 edges it out for me) and Rocky Horror. Interesting about Victor/Victoria, which is a film that, for me, fails because of Edwards’ typical insistence on going for a slapstick tone with that Clouseau clone, and by utterly betraying its own premise by having Garner find out Andrews isn’t a man before he completely falls for her. Among other things, that makes absolute nonsense of the line, “I don’t care if you are a boy,” just before he kisses her. (I understand this was a concession to Garner, but that doesn’t excuse it.)

    Just to be fair, here’s what I’d list as my favorite musicals (today at least):

    Tommy (1975) Ken Russell
    Love Me Tonight (1933) Rouben Mamoulian
    A Hard Day’s Night (1964) Richard Lester
    Across the Universe (2007) Julie Taymor
    Swing Time (1936) George Stevens
    One Hour with You (1932) Ernst Lubitsch
    The Boy Friend (1971) Ken Russell
    Moulin Rouge (2001) Baz Luhrmann
    Golddiggers of 1933 Mervyn LeRoy & Berkeley
    Hallelujah, I’m a Bum (1933) Lewis Milestone
    Show Boat (1936) James Whale

    Yeah, I cheated. I have 11. They’re not really in order — apart from the first two — and I could easily switch out the lower half on any given day.

  24. Ken Hanke

    Perhaps “light” was the wrong term to use for camp. Maybe deft would have been better. John Waters is very deft at riding the line between “campily awful” and “truly awful” (at least for me). That takes skill. And yet I still can’t make it through “Mondo Trasho”.

    Fair enough. Haven’t seen Mondo Trasho myself, but I find most of John’s earlier works easier to take in half hour chunks than in complete doses. But Waters does something by the time of Hairspray (his version, not the musical, though his version virtually is a musical, too) — he does camp and still manages to give the film an emotional resonance. I really do think that camp is a sensibility that you either have or don’t have. I don’t think Lloyd really has that sensibility and I don’t think it can be grafted on deliberately. It’s like setting out to make a “cult movie.” It almost never works.

  25. Steve

    I really enjoyed Moulin Rouge, but it was a bit too hip for me. It seemed self-consciously cool and arty. In the way you felt Mama Mia was pushing happy in your face, I thought they were a bit aggressively chic.

    I LOVE the old Show Boat with Irene Dunne, enough that I reviewed it on Amazon and in Yahoo movies. I think the movie gets short shrift because of the minstrel show. I know I’m not supposed to like that part, but I do. For some reason, when they sing that line “make believe our lips are blending”, I can always see Carol Burnett doing a spoof of it with a blender coming on somewhere. Great movie though – and the MGM 51 version totally sucks.

  26. Ken Hanke

    In the way you felt Mama Mia was pushing happy in your face, I thought they were a bit aggressively chic.

    I don’t in the least mind aggressive chic, especially not when it’s the filmmaking that’s being aggressive. In Mamma Mia! it’s the performances that are being aggressive.

    Yes, the ’51 SHOW BOAT sucks — and it’s its existence that keeps the ’36 version from being as well known as it ought to be more than anything. The ’36 version was kept out of public view for about 30 years because of it. It wasn’t till the early 80s that it became available again (I first saw it in Greenwich Village in 1982 on a double bill with Roberta). Even now, it’s not out on DVD, though it did appear on laserdisc and TCM runs it occasionally.

  27. Steve

    I frequently have a conflict with the movies I’m “supposed” to like. Because many times I don’t. I’m reminded of the saying (don’t remember who) that we respect classical music too much, and don’t love it enough. Moulin was very slick. The fast pastiche camerawork reminded me of an impressionist painting, the sets were amazingly gorgeous, and Nicole Kidman frankly has never looked more ravishing – even in Eyes Wide Shut. I can see it the same way I see 42nd Street, and recognize it’s superior craft. I can also recognize that it is totally out of the league of a picture like Mama. I even cried at the end when Nicole died. But it’s not a movie I would want to own or see over and over. My problems with it, aside from the aforementioned arrogance I felt, were that a) the use of the pop music in places I found distracting, and frankly not in keeping with the quality of the rest of the film; and b) Richard Roxburgh’s performance as the Duke, which I found as over the top as any found in Mama Mia. The movie just runs into a wall every time he comes on screen for me.

    I will also admit to being one of those saps critics hate who wants a happy ending. I understand that it doesn’t always work artistically for the picture (and I hate it when they change the endings of books as much as anyone), but I go to the movies to be entertained. I don’t want to leave the theater depressed and unhappy.

    I’m not saying this is movie of the year or anything. I’m just saying that I was entertained, and I left the theater feeling good. I was willing, because of my love of Abba, and because I really liked the three women playing the leads, to cut the movie a lot more slack than it probably deserved. Some wouldn’t. I’m sorry you didn’t like it.

  28. Steve

    PS – Yes I understand they couldn’t change the ending to La Boheme, and I would have been horrified if they had.

  29. Ken Hanke

    The thing is I have no problem with happy endings — and the fact that this has one isn’t my problem with it. Except for Moulin Rouge! the only of those musicals I listed that could be said to have less than happy endings are Tommy (the last sequence is, however, uplifting) and Hallelujah, I’m a Bum! (bittersweet). At the same time, I wouldn’t want nothing but happy endings.

  30. Cindy Jo

    I saw this awf…er…this musical about a month ago,but just stumbled upon this review today. I’m so glad to have found your review,Ken. Whew.
    For me,it was NOT “feel-good” stuff. It was embarrassing. I get the campy,I get the ABBA music, but all I could think of after about an hour,was,”HOUSE LIGHTS!!!PLEASE!!HOUSE LIGHTS!!IS IT OVER YET?????” About half of the eight other gals(most baby boomers) I saw it with were laughing and jumping around. Uh…not I. B>*

  31. Ken Hanke

    Beware of taking this attitude! At least one (previously civil) reader told me off in no uncertain terms for not having the proper reverence for this movie. (Apparently, I have a faulty joie de vivre. Next thing you know, my je ne sais quoi will need tightening, and that would be the height of personal embarassment.)

    We are not alone in finding the movie embarassing, but, as you’ve just demonstrated, the folks who love it, love it a lot. You, however, will not, I presume, be waiting to see if any local venue books the “singalong” version that’s due out.

  32. Justin Souther

    You, however, will not, I presume, be waiting to see if any local venue books the “singalong” version that’s due out.

    Letting the audience participate sounds like a bad move to me. Pierce Brosnan couldn’t even sing-a-long to the movie, and he was getting paid to do so.

  33. Ken Hanke

    I’m just hoping it takes a follow-the-bouncing-ball approach (and it probably won’t).

  34. Justin Souther

    I’m hoping for a bouncing Meryl Streep head.

    Or at least a bouncing goat.

  35. cindyjo

    Your visual images (lol) are helping me change my attitude…somewhat! I’m ALMOST repentant,Ken!

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