Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Chick Flick Musical

After being rather under the weather last night from some stomach upset, it was probably good for me to go and see Mumma Mia tonight. If you were feeling like death warmed up, it’s very enlivening.

I don’t get the impression, somehow, that it’s geared towards the blokes; even the three main blokes in it have rather ditzy parts with not much going for them. It’s the women who get to do all the dancing and have all the fun dressing up and being energetic and generally throwing themselves all over. Meryl Streep makes the most of her part, as always – she’s the consummate professional, and manages to find some depth in a role that, when all’s said and done, is pretty lightly written. Julie Walters is wonderful, as always: she catches the tone perfectly, and never seems to be overdoing it the way some of the others are (the opening sequence with the two bridesmaids is surprisingly full in your face – more suited to the stage than the screen). And she gets some of the best laughs. Christine Baranski is Christine Baranski, as usual; she’s only cast in roles that require her to be herself. But that’s the way movies have always done it. Some people making a living out of playing themselves and playing themselves very well.

Pierce Brosnan is surprisingly dull; but so is his role, so it’s not entirely surprising. And he’s hampered by having the worst singing voice of the lot. Colin Firth manages a not-too-weedy tenor, and Stellan Skarsgard is fortunate in virtually not having to sing at all. Dominic Cooper as the young fiancĂ© is bright and energetic, and even though his part is (like most of the other parts) underwritten, he comes across with some fire. The three ageing hippies (Brosnan. Firth and Skarsgard) all seem a bit wet by comparison.

The story’s a bit tacky for my taste, but it doesn’t seem to bother most audiences. And why does Firth get saddled with a bloke at the end? Where did that come from? It’s totally out of the blue, and muddles the character. To be honest, the script as a whole is a muddle, saddled as it is with trying to get as many ABBA songs on board as possible. There’s a cleverness in fitting them into the story, but unfortunately the story is full of holes and barely stands on its own two feet. None of the characters quite seem to know what they want, and at the end they’re still poncing around trying to figure it out, while being forced to leap into whichever arms happen to be left over (hence Firth winding up with a bloke – Baranksi was never a likely candidate for him).

Okay, I didn’t hate it. I enjoy musicals at the best of times, and on the musical side this is full of beans: catchy tunes (even the ones you don’t know), dancing with muscle, and plenty of colour and energy. I think it could probably have been better, but that obviously wasn’t the general opinion of those around me – nor of those who’ve enthused to me over going to see it. And hey, I did want to go and see myself anyway, in spite of the very negative review by Richard Corliss I read in Time magazine a week or two ago. If you think this post is negative, check that out!

Here’s one of the worst and least true paragraphs:
Now the big genre challenge: musicals. The very form is antique. Young filmgoers often have to be told why the people in these movies are suddenly singing instead of speaking. And nothing dates faster than musical styles. The great American songbook of Gershwin and Porter and Rodgers standards can sound positively atonal to teen ears, just as hip-hop seems melody-deficient to the folks with hearing aids.

‘Positively atonal’? ‘Young filmgoers have to be told why the people are suddenly singing?’ You mean none of them watch MTV? Come on, Richard, you're a bigger grump than I am.
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