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Mamma Mia!

September 5, 2010

Mamma Mia! (2008)
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Actors: Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan

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Synopsis: The daughter (Amanda Seyfried) of expat hotel owner (Meryl Streep) prepares for her wedding, but things are thrown into turmoil by the arrival of three men claiming to be her father (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard).

Review: A stringent critique of Mamma Mia! is essentially pointless when the film posits itself so unabashedly as an undemanding two hours of cinematic candyfloss. The fact it’s already based on two layers of received pop cultural phenomena (the songs of Abba and the musical their lyrics inspired – “Mamma Mia”) only emphasises the commercial imperative of the movie. The production’s elements would suggest that imperative as such: the locating of the action on an idyllic Greek island rather than a grey British suburb, and the casting of cardboard caricatures for most of the support roles – Julie Walters as the sassy and spunky British friend of Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski as her ironic, botoxed American counterpart, and Colin Firth as another of those stuffy Home Counties types he could do in his sleep. Incidentally, Firth’s character’s late turn to free-spirited homosexuality is inadvertently one of the film’s highlights, more for the arbitrariness of the revelation and the unsatiric way it is played out, than for any intended dramatic effect.

Taste, ultimately, will be the main critical paradigm for Mamma Mia!, and to my mind the shrill hysteria of Walters and Baranski, plus the exaggerated facial tics and hand movements of Streep (presumably meant to demonstrate her character’s eccentricity and emotionality) were a little too nauseating for my liking. (July 2008)

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