I’m keeping things light this week since it has been so hot out it’s hard for me to form actual thoughts, and also because the heat has been making me think of walking around in airy Grecian dresses. So, I bring you the classic ABBA masterpiece, Mamma Mia!, based on the wildly successful West End musical by ABBA members Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson.
People seem to either love or hate this movie. I get the hate, it’s overly fluffy and cute plus there is a lot of squealing and Pierce Brosnan sings which can be a little disturbing for some, but I think that if you just sit back, relax and not expect anything more than pure, silly, entertainment, you won’t be disappointed by this film.
On the beautiful Greek Island of Kalokairi, Donna (Meryl Streep) owns a small hotel where she lives with her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) who is about to marry her boyfriend Sky (Dominic Cooper), but before she does she needs to know who her father is. After finding her mother’s diary from the year she was born, she narrows down the possibilities to three men, Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Harry (Colin Firth), and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård, father of Alexander Skarsgård, Eric from True Blood). Without her mother knowing, she sends wedding invitations to her three prospective dads. When the three men turn up on the island Sophie finds herself confused that she can’t tell who her father is on sight. The men are also confused once they realize Donna wasn’t the one who sent the invitations and has no idea that they’re there. Craziness ensues, helped out by Donna’s two over the top friends and members of her former band Donna and The Dynamos, Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters). If you haven’t seen it, I’m sure you can imagine how it plays out—with a whole lot of singing and dancing and sparkly costumes too.
Alright, I’ll confess, I love musicals. I was a musical theater geek, I know all the words to Oliver!, Annie, South Pacific, Gypsy and dozens of others. Give me a few box steps and some killer harmonies and I am a happy girl. I know there are people who get all cringe-y when people break into song on film, so if you’re one of them, this movie is not for you—but I still suggest you see West Side Story and My Fair Lady, because those are both so much more than just musicals and you’re missing out, really. While I’m making confessions, I also have to admit that I love ABBA. I know they get written off as goofy disco pop, but those guys have written some great songs with some great arrangements, there is no shame in liking ABBA, just own it.
I also love Meryl Streep, I mean everyone loves her obviously, but she is just so good. She is great to watch in this movie because you can tell she is having a blast. Why shouldn’t she get to have some musical fun? The woman is not only an astounding dramatic actress, but she has great comedic timing and is just a joy to watch all the time. Actually everyone in this film seems to be having a great time, that’s what I like to see in my movie musicals, that is kind of the point isn’t it?
Poor Pierce Brosnan got slammed by critics for his singing, which I honestly don’t think was so bad. I’m not going to say he sounds Springsteen-ish, because I’m sure I’ll get slammed for that, but I think if he wasn’t James Bond people wouldn’t have been so hard on him—the dude was having fun OK? I mean really, it’s an ABBA musical, why the hell not?
The whole cast is good, Christine Baranski could do this in her sleep, and she probably does. Amanda Seyfried is wonderfully good at being starry-eyed and sweet, and though Julie Walters is pretty wacky and a bit crude as Rosie, she is also Mrs. Weasley, so she can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned.
There is nothing upsetting or deeply dramatic about this movie, yet it still manages to have a big heart. The relationship between mother and daughter, Sophie’s search for answers, and Donna’s struggle with accepting Sophie’s marriage are all very real issues that women deal with all the time, there’s just some ABBA music added in for kicks. The film showcases strong women, from when Tanya sings Does your Mother Know? to one of the young men on the island in a reversal of the original ABBA song, to Sophie realizing that she doesn’t need a father to walk her down the aisle, not when she has her mother there. It is a film made mostly for women and by women too (the director is fellow female Phyllida Lloyd), and it caught a lot of flack for it. It’s not just a romantic comedy, it deals with bigger issues and is more entertaining than most of the romantic comedies that have come out recently. Yes, the basis of the film is romance and love, but also self discovery, family, regret, and friendship.
Despite breaking the record for the highest grossing movie-musical of all time, bumping Grease out of the #1 spot, Mamma Mia! wasn’t so well received by critics. I’m not saying every woman loved this film, but I can’t help but find it interesting that with the success at the box office, it was still so slammed by critics. Check out this article published by the Alliance of Women Film Journalist and written by Dr. Martha M. Lauzen who is the Director of the Center for the Study of Women In Television and Film. Here is a fun statistic from the article, 77% of film critics for major publications are male, and many large news publications do not feature any female critics, that might explain why so many films written for, or by, or about women often fail to receive critical acclaim. There are men who are great film critics who I truly believe look at the film for its overall value (Roger Ebert I’m looking at you!) but with a percentage gap like that, it seems impossible that there isn’t some bias going on. If I were a film critic I can tell you right now that films with excessive violence, or hour-long chase scenes wouldn’t receive such great reviews from me, but I know I’m biased, and I’m not a film critic. I’m sure there are male critics that were squirming in their seats watching this, because it’s not a film made for them, so we can’t expect them all to enjoy it. The more you look at the statistics the more depressing the film industry seems, women go to see a lot of movies, but they don’t get to make them or write about them, and that stinks, food for thought.
If you feel like dressing like a Greek goddess during these hot, humid, nights, you can embrace your inner Aphrodite with the looks below. Have a great weekend kids, stay cool!