Friday, July 18, 2008

Meryl sings and dances. Wow!

There's nothing wrong with "Mamma Mia!," the big-screen adaptation of the ABBA-inspired musical, that a healthy dose of cynicism wouldn't fix. I leave that to someone else. Meanwhile, Universal Pictures deserves credit for pitting "Mamma Mia!'' against the foreboding presence of "The Dark Knight." If Batman has gone pitch-black thematically (and it has), "Mamma Mia!" races headlong in the opposite direction, bathing itself in the spectacular light of a Greek island and in the unrelentingly upbeat rhythms of ABBA tunes. Devotes can compare the screen version to the stage show; I'll just say that I've now had my "giddy" quotient for the year. Maybe the next two.

A couple of things did occur to me as I listened to the teen-agers in the audience giggle at the way director Phillidia Lloyd framed the movie's jokes. For one, I couldn't shake the illusion-shattering knowledge that I was watching Meryl Streep sing and dance. I kept thinking something along the lines of, "Yes, it's Meryl playing air guitar, doing girl-group riffs and falling into the spirit of the whole frivolous enterprise." Pierce Brosnan, on the other, can't really sing, and I had a kind of reverse realization watching him. "Yes, there's Pierce not singing particularly well," I thought.

For those who don't know, a recap: The story involves a wedding. Streep's Donna prepares for her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) to head for the altar. Donna raised Sophie as a single mom. Eager to learn the identity of her biological father, Sophie invites three men (Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard (yes, he of angst-riddled Dogma cinema) to the nuptials. They all were involved with Donna around the time Sophie was conceived.

Also in attendance are two of Donna's gal pals (Julie Walters and Christine Baranski). Call Baranski the clear winner as far as performance is concerned. She's the group's seen-it-all, done-it-all woman.

The whole production is so pumped up that it virtually screams, "Isn't this fun?" Some of it is, but after a while, it's tiresome watching a movie that seems to be telling us how much fun we're supposed to be having. I suppose I eventually was beaten into submission. Meryl, you convinced me. You had a great time making the movie. You are the dancing queen. You go, girl.

Now, onto more important business and more appropriate exclamation points: Let's fire up the Batmobile!

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