March 9, 2012

Queer Review: Mamma Mia! (2008)

Mamma Mia!
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Writer: Catherine Johnson
Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Stellan Skarsgård, Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, Dominic Cooper

What happens when you take the songs of ABBA, mix in a plot light story and the acting talents of Meryl Streep? Why, Mamma Mia! of course, the cinematic equivalent of a sparkler, that is it burns bright once lit but the memory is unlikely to linger.

Sophia (Amanda Seyfried) is in the final preparations for her wedding to Sky (Dominic Cooper) but with one wrinkle. She does not know who her father is. So after snooping through her mother's diary, Sophia invites the three candidates, Harry Bright (Colin Firth), Bill Anderson (Stellan Skarsgård), and Sam Carmichael (Pierce Brosnan). However, since she did not tell anyone she was doing this, naturally, lots of hijinks ensue, all set to the tunes of ABBA.

The Queering
Musicals, much like the westerns, are a rare breed in modern cinema, but Mamia Mia! proves that there is good reason for them not to go extinct. Completely, lacking in substance (of course) Mamma Mia! still manages to provide a reasonably entertaining cinematic experience. The song and dance sequences are energetic and keep the plot moving at a fast enough pace that other issues become ignorably.

Character development can charitably be called shallow and the plot is as flimsy as the gorgeous, flowing costumes Meryl Streep frequently wears. The most memorable one having her on the prow of a large boat, king of the world style, with a large sash flowing over most of the railings. No matter what, between the song and dance numbers and the gorgeous island scenery Mamma Mia! is at least always interesting to look at. Since Mamma Mia! is set in Greece, it's worth pointing out that it literally does have a greek chorus.

Meryl Streep, while perhaps not quite up to her usual standerds, manages to demonstrate yet again why Hollywood's insistence on putting women past the age of 30 out to pasture is the most moronic of attitudes. Amanda Seyfried is suitably charming. Of the rest of the cast only Pierce Brosnan feels miscast, but that's mostly due to his singing abilities - or more precisely, the lack thereof.

In the "blink and you'll miss it" category, I should point out that Colin Firth's character is gay. Call me cynical and while I generally applaud the inclusion of positive queer characters, even minor ones, the evidence that Firth's character is in fact gay is presented in such a brief and rushed manor that I could not help but wonder about the motivation for putting it in the screenplay. Given that ABBA has a strong following with gay men, I therefore believe that the producers thought that a movie set securely in heteronormative land, might not have played too strongly with the target audience, thus motivating the inclusion of a minor gay character.

A lot depends on how big a fan one is of ABBA in order to determine if one will be screaming with joy or agony while watching Mamma Mia!. For the ABBA fans, this will be a joy to watch, for the non-fans, well, I would wager your time will be better off listening to your K.I.S.S. or Aerosmith albums for the millionth time.

The Rating


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1 comment:

  1. Great review! And I agree - 3/4 seems the perfect rating for this movie.

    I do get kind of annoyed by how ready people are to dismiss this movie, when it never promises nor pretends to be any more than lighthearted, silly musical fun with plenty of heart (all of this could be applied to ABBA, I'd say). And I love every single person in the movie, which totally helps.

    As for the Colin Firth character, I completely agree - I love that he is gay AND a great character, but I'm not too fond that it is treated as a joke. Particularly considering that there are few movies stereotypically gayer than Mamma Mia!

    Anyways, great blog - you're bookmarked!


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