Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Mamma Mia!

Lowdown: Actors enjoying an feature length Abba sing-along.
After watching the first five minutes of Mamma Mia!, the alert message going through my brain was something like “mamma mia let me go”. The more rational side of my brain was thinking along the lines of “oh no, not another Across the Universe like disaster; can we turn the TV off now?”
As plots go, Mamma Mia! doesn’t have much to be proud of. Set on a Greek island, it’s a multi cast extravaganza that sort of revolves around Meryl Streep. Streep is the manager of a small time island hotel whose daughter is getting married the next day. The cunning daughter does not know who her father is, but after peeking at Streep’s diary of yonder days she narrows it down to three candidates and invites them all to her wedding. Of course, in order to provide a Greek tragedy like element to the film, Streep must not know about this because she hates those three guys who left her. Thus when the three arrive, including Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth, the pressure cooker is boiling. And what do people do when pressure cookers boils? They sing Abba songs, of course, which is what tends to happen throughout most of the film as it tries to answer that most existential of questions: who is going to give the bride away in the upcoming wedding ceremony?
I have been quoted to say I don’t like musicals, and my reasoning definitely apply to Mamma Mia!: First, the performances tend to suck, and that is definitely the case here. All singing is done by the actual cast, and let’s face it – they’re not singers. Especially Brosnan, whom even a dead parrot can outsing. Second, when songs are forcefully pushed down a film’s throat they come at a price: plots don’t make sense and story development gets stalled, for a start.
Yet overall Mamma Mia! manages to skip between these traps. Through the sheer fun the actors obviously had making this film, and mostly through the Abba songs that have always been so stupidly funny, Mamma Mia! provides for an overall light fun type experience. Forget the meaningless plot or the bad singing, and enjoy a couple of hours under the Greek sun with some people making fools of themselves and some nice music.
So why is it not another Across the Universe? I would say because it does not take itself too seriously, does not try to bite more than it can chew, offers a superb cast of actors that can actually act (Streep is really something; such versatile actors are truly rare), and does not deal with Bono like ego trips.
I'll put it this way: The morning after Mamma Mia! started with some Abba music.
Best scene: There is no real memorable scene I can report. Of course, Brosnan’s singing is memorable for the wrong reasons, but then the one scene that made me laugh was the Abba pianist’s cameo at the peak of a Dancing Queen extravaganza on the beach.
Technical assessment: The problem with this Blu-ray is that the picture is so good it makes the abundant use of blue screens so stupidly obvious it’s distracting. The same goes for the sound, where the DTS HD soundtrack's level of detail exposes the ADR (dubbing) used for the singing. That said, the soundtrack is great for fun, and although there are no low frequency effects (and rightly so) I really liked it for the sheer joy it conveyed. Blu-ray is, indeed, the way to experience Mamma Mia!
Overall: A nice chill-out film. 3 out of 5 stars.

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