Monday, July 14, 2008

Don't Take a Chance on This

So ... this is what it looks like when Meryl Streep is slumming, eh? In the film adaptation of Mamma Mia!, the musical about a girl (Amanda Seyfried) who invites three men to her wedding in the hopes of finding out which one is her father (a show I've never seen, by the way, and have consciously avoided), Streep plays the girl's mother, who now runs a hotel on a remote Greek island. Oh, and the whole thing is set to the music of ABBA.

If you've read this far, congratulations. That's farther than I got seeing the movie. It's pretty clear from the first five minutes that Mamma Mia! is going to be pretty awful, and by the title card, it had lost me completely. And it's not because I hate musicals; on the contrary. In fact, Hairspray was one of my favorite movies of 2007. And it's not because I can't deal with a female-centric movie — hell, even Sex and the City was better than this. It's not even because I hate the music of ABBA. It's that the material — the script and the story — is so lame that it induces groans, and not even a cast including Streep and Pierce Brosnan can save it.

Young woman seeks to learn the identity of her father, so she invites all three possibilities to her wedding and doesn't tell her mother first. It's a classic sitcommy set-up. Throw in said wacky mother, her two hi-larious best friends — oh, and the fact that all three used to be in a singing group — and you have a recipe for disaster. Plus, have it so that the three men "meet cute" and maybe have one turn out to be gay. And did I mention the film is set in Greece? So of course there's also a Greek chorus. Oh, but it gets worse: Streep and Brosnan can't sing (which doesn't stop them from trying), the film is shot in a totally amateurish way, and there are even some scenes where you can easily tell the actors are standing in front of a green screen. At least the ABBA songs feel slightly natural, in that they're not forced into the story as uncomfortably as the Beatles songs were in Across the Universe. Still, by the time Streep launches into "The Winner Takes It All," you've heard a few songs too many. And "Dancing Queen" may make you gag and want to walk right out (bummer — it comes about a third of the way in). For a better ABBA tribute movie, may I suggest Muriel's Wedding?

If there's one thing worth mentioning in a positive way, it's Seyfried (Alpha Dog), who is a real find here. She's got a radiant sweetness, decent mother-daughter chemistry with Streep, and best of all, she can actually sing. If only she was in a better movie. The one she is in, Mamma Mia!, gets a D from me.

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