Saturday, 19 July 2008

Post Mamma Mia: An Abba Fan's Delight

My concerns were groundless. I loved every minute of Mamma Mia. It's delightful. True, there were moments where the big stars were thrashing out Abba songs with great gusto and looking like they might ruin them, Meryl Streep's doing her best with "Winner Takes it All" but leaving you longing for the original with Agnetha's vocals, but those moments were relatively few and far between. The backing track, apparently supplied by Abba's own musicians, was sublime, and there were moments when you almost felt that you could hear Agnetha and Frida on backing vocals if you listened hard enough. And during "Dancing Queen" there was a great little cameo from Benny, playing the piano on the jetty.

I was unfamiliar with the story of the musical and I was pleasantly surprised by how well Abba songs had been woven into its absurd, fluffy, but enjoyable plot. On odd occasions the songs felt more obviously shoe-horned in than they might have been. Brosnan's character singing SOS came from nowhere, Streep's character's "Winner Takes it All" likewise. But the musical avoids doing anything seriously horrible; there are no characters knocking around called "Fernando" or "Nina", thank goodness. And on several of the occasions where the songs are a little forced, the characters themselves appear to realize it. Julie Walters's ridiculous call of "Chiquitita" to Meryl Streep (hiding in the toilet) is hilarious. And sometimes the choice of songs is unpredictable and quite refreshing. I did not immediately think of "Our Last Summer" when Colin Firth's character, a "banker" named "Harry" was introduced at the beginning of the film. And while most of the songs chosen are the "hits", there are other good choices of the lesser known tracks, the kinds the fans like, "Slipping through my fingers", Meryl Streep and her daughter Amanda Seyfried in a tear-jerker, "Lay all your love on me", Amanda Seyfried on the beach on her fiancé's stag night, and "When All is Said and Done", at the wedding at the end.

I found watching this film unbelievably enjoyable, a whole gushing series of emotions, laughing out loud and crying quietly. It is totally unsophisticated; it has the most ridiculous plot imaginable; it ought to be the most terrible film you could think of and yet somehow it works and works brilliantly. A huge part of that is simply that Abba's songs are just so good that it is the musical to trump all musicals. Where sometimes in musicals you sigh when someone begins to sing, in this film every time another song starts, you think, "Great! Another fantastic song." But there is also something about the brainless enjoyment that invites you in to celebrate alongside all the characters so clearly having a party. You want to sing and dance with them. And it might sound daft to say it, but somehow the film looks like Abba songs sound. There is a kind of joyful optimism, a love of life that does make you think of the sunshine, the seaside, laughing, crying and celebrating.

This is just wonderful. While everyone else is raving abut Dark Knight here, and I too will get round to seeing that over the next few days, I can't think about anything other than Mamma Mia and I can't wait for my second viewing, as soon as possible, and then a third and a fourth.

Mark Kermode delivers his best review over -- he is absolutely spot on about this "strangely wonderful" film -- I laughed out loud at his review:


Loren Rosson III said...

You won't find me watching Mamma Mia, but I adore the new blog name!

Anonymous said...

You need to come over into the light! Embrace your good side. Forget all that dark evil stuff that lurks below! Yours in Christ!

Brian Mooney said...

You are spot on, Mark, spot on. Four Tardis marks - but, whoops, I am mixing metaphors.

Your review was accurate and touching, and when I kept experienced alternating episodes of laugher and tears, I could only think of how well you prepared me for this film with your remarks.

Thanks! Now my wife and it are getting ready to see it again.

BTW, it seems to be lost on the younger set (under 30?) - but that's their problem!!!!!!!

It was nice to see Julie Walters again!