Mamma Mia! (2008) (part 3 of 3)
Pardons having officially been handed out, here’s my list of the worst offenders in Mamma Mia!:
So, you’re a movie producer following the trend of bringing Broadway musicals to the big screen. Good for you. You’ve picked a light little comedic piece which, let’s be honest, has some very silly songs. Do you choose as your lead A) a Broadway actress with just enough screen credits to know what the little red light on the camera means; B) an established actress who everyone has forgotten actually got her start in musical comedy; or C) the most honored living actress in Academy Award history, with her fifteenth nomination coming just this year?
I mean, forget the question of how they got Meryl Streep in the first place. I can’t even figure out why. She’s the world’s best dramatic actress. And they wanted her for a musical? How does that conversation even go? “Hey, you know who would be great at singing ABBA songs? That lady from Sophie’s Choice. See if she’s available.”
Yes, Streep trained as a singer. In college. She has never had a serious singing role since then, and it shows. Her voice doesn’t have the power for the solid two-octave range one needs to sing ABBA. It barely has enough power for “Happy Birthday”. And harmony seems to flat out confuse her.
But, by far, the worst thing isn’t her singing. It’s her acting. What Meryl Streep can do, better than any actress who ever lived, is slowly have a nervous breakdown. Kramer vs. Kramer: nervous breakdown. The Bridges of Madison County: nervous breakdown. Adaptation.: huge nervous breakdown. Yet here, they want her to do comedy. It just makes no sense. “Ladies and gentlemen, your entertainment for the evening: Karen Silkwood! We’re sure she’ll be fine.”
So Meryl Streep, most likely feeling wildly unsure of herself, retreats back to the one thing she knows how to do. She has a nervous breakdown. Unfortunately, the apex of her psychological collapse comes during a song. She won’t let that get in the way, though. She attempts to emote through the lyrics. Since this is ABBA, and she can’t sing, it’s hopeless. But that doesn’t stop a professional like Meryl Streep. Watch in amazement as she goes for another Oscar:
She… could… go… all… the… No, never mind. This is terrible.
Here’s a thought: If the producers wanted an award-winning actress from Silkwood, they probably would have been better off with Cher. She’s insane, but at least she can do comedy. In fact, her Oscar was actually for a comedy, and not, like some other people, for a drama about a woman driven by guilt to commit suicide. It is, after all, a family film.
What. The. Hell. Were. They. Thinking?
First of all, Brosnan can’t act. In fact, his best performance ever was when he played a satirical send-up of himself in The Tailor of Panama. In every other film he’s made, including the Bond movies, he just stands there looking good. Unfortunately, movie musicals tend to demand more than just standing there. One should, at a minimum, be able to sing.
Brosnan cannot. Neither can the other two guys, but they’re just annoyingly bad. Brosnan is disastrously bad. Why? Because all of his singing comes at the absolute climax of the movie. He has solos in two back-to-back songs at the wedding, making him impossible to ignore or forgive.
I’m not just being snarky. Try to listen to this caterwauling without committing an act of violence:
My god, it’s full of stars.
Also, not to belabor a point, but if you’re casting people out of Sophie’s Choice, how about Kevin Kline? He’s funny, he can sing, and he has an Oscar. Kevin Kline and Cher—together again!
So, you want to put together a girl group reminiscent of Anni-Frid Lyngstad, and platinum-blond Agnetha Faltskog, both 5’8″ without the disco heels? Well, then, feast your eyes on Julie Walters.
Yes, she’s had two Oscar nominations. Educating Rita and Billy Elliot were great movies—not musicals per se, but very fine films in their own right. She’s also by far the highest-grossing actor in Mamma Mia!: The Harry Potter films alone, where she plays Mrs. Weasley, have grossed $3.7 billion worldwide. That hack Streep barely tops $1.4 billion for her entire career.
So, let me be clear: if you need a dowdy, frumpy, troll-like Englishwoman for your movie, you could not do better than Julie Walters. If you need somebody to sing ABBA songs in perfect soprano eleven-part harmony, you should probably keep looking.
She plugs away gamely. But she’s in the wrong movie.
Because nothing says musical comedy like the mean math professor from Good Will Hunting.
No, he can’t sing. In fact, his Swedish accent makes him utterly unintelligible. Also, I kept expecting him to leave the island to hunt for the Red October.
But by far, the most out-of-place actor in the movie was…
Why did Mamma Mia! work on Broadway, but not on the big screen? I don’t know. But I have a guess: On stage, everything was shiny and beautiful. It was all clean and white and sparkly. The leads, all women of a certain age, might have actually been old. But makeup, lights, and good seats in the mezzanine made all that disappear. And even if they were toothless hags, the show had a secret weapon: the Greek Chorus. They were really hot, young, energetic dancers who danced energetically, youthfully, and with great hotness.
Now observe the Greek Chorus from this movie:
What the hell? Are these extras left over from Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants? Is Sasha Baron Cohen going to accost me and demand a hug? Had the Greek locals who answered the casting call ever heard of the countries which the principal actors are from?
It’s as simple as this: musicals should be beautiful, and this one is not. Case in point: Shirley Jones. Check her out when she was making The Music Man (or, possibly, Oklahoma!).
Now check her out, that same year, without the makeup:
I rest my case.
This is director Phyllida Lloyd’s first motion picture. It may be the first time she’s ever operated a camera.
It bears mentioning that she’s an award-winning theatre director. She’s put together dramas, operas, musicals, and plays you say that you’ve seen but you really haven’t. Seriously, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie? Has anybody ever even read that? She directed Mamma Mia! on the West End (or, possibly, in the West End). Then she transferred it to Broadway, and when the time came to make it into a movie, she was the natural choice.
Unfortunately, she wasn’t. Phyllida Lloyd is a theatre director. If there’s one rule of moviemaking, it’s this: have your movie made by someone who knows how to make a movie.
Ms. Lloyd does not. The reason I know is she admits it. On the commentary track, she fondly recalls having no idea what in the hell she was doing. She relates a story where she described to the Director of Photography exactly what she wanted. She was informed, politely, that he couldn’t get that shot without causing all of the extras and Amanda Seyfried to die.
Also, it appears she was terrified of Meryl Streep. I may be paraphrasing, but this is what I remember from her commentary on a scene where Streep drives her friends up a steep and winding Dilapidos hill:
For her utter inability to understand what makes a good movie different from a good play, Phyllida Lloyd is the worst offender of them all.
Except for two others:
Whatever else you may think about Benny and Björn, know this: every single note sung by every single actor in this movie was personally approved by the both of them. They worked tirelessly in the studio to rehearse and record the cast, both individually and as a group.
Thirty years ago, these two men were trend-setters, musical geniuses who combined catchy tunes, lively beats, inventive harmonics, and walls of sound to produce music that, according to at least one article I read, actually speaks to the human animal on a primal level. Also, that article seemed a bit overly enthusiastic and not particularly well researched.
But the point is these guys assembled some terrible people who seriously ruined their songs.
I submit my final exhibit:
If you think about it, “Waterloo” is this movie’s Waterloo.
And after watching that, I have just one thing to say: I’m gonna wash this movie right out of my hair. Back me up, ladies. Am I right or am I right?
Um… I’m not gay.
More Razzie Contenders coming soon! …Maybe?
Other recaps in the Razzie Contenders: 2009 Edition series: