Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Mamma mia, here I go again...

At the weekend, I saw what is possibly the girliest film ever. In a good way. That was Mamma Mia! I'd been to see the musical as a birthday treat when it first came out years ago and loved it and was really looking forward to the film.

A bit of background, I've loved ABBA since I was 10 when, while looking through my parents' old tapes and LPs for something to choreograph a dance to, I found my mum's copy of their "Arrival" album. It contains some of their best known songs including 'Dancing Queen', 'When I Kissed The Teacher' and "Money Money Money'. I was hooked at first listen and for a good many years, they were the only 20th century band I had ever heard or cared to listen to.

My liking of ABBA was just one of the many things that singled me out as slightly odd in secondary school and I was teased about it for quite a long time, until people realised I wasn't going to give in. I had high hopes of the film, based on memories of the musical, and in the main, it didn't disappoint.

I loved Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada and I thought she was fabulous in this as Donna Sheridan. She carried the sadder parts of her character's story really well, given that the whole thing is meant to be a comedy, and revealed a more than decent singing voice. She, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters made a wonderful, if improbable, trio of best friends and their interaction was at the core of the film and really made it for me. This was the girly in a good way. The bouncing on beds, the dressing up in silly costumes to cheer up a friend, singing songs using hair brushes for microphones, telling dirty jokes, chasing males, running away from males, meeting up with long lost friends by running at each other screaming into a mad embrace. The best bit of the film for me was when Baranski and Walters' characters cheer up Donna by reminding her of her Dancing Queen days. They end up going for an impromptu dance round the island, picking up every female inhabitant along the way and ending with them all strutting their stuff along the pier before jumping or being pushed into the sea. It's a wonderfully joyous affirmation of all the fun things about being female.

The girly in a bad way was provided by Amanda Seyfried, who I completely didn't recognise from Mean Girls (guys, watch it, seriously, it's funny!), and who was completely annoying as Donna's daughter Sophie. I didn't understand why anyone would want to marry her, let alone potentially be her father. She was self-centred, indulged and idiotic and would have solved lots of her problems if she'd just got everyone together at once and explained things. It may have been that way in the stage version too, but I don't remember her character being so nearly annoying and whiny. I also think they may have streamlined things slightly for the film.

Dominic Cooper, who I knew I recognised from somewhere, and who turns out to have played Dakin in the film adaptation of Alan Bennett's The History Boys, was suitably buff as Sophie's boyfriend Sky, but wasn't given much to do beside look tanned and sulky. And while Cooper as Dakin could quite happily have pulled off a Cuban cigar, he really couldn't as Sky. Again, memories are hazy, but I'm guessing his role might have been quite slimmed down for the film.

Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard and Pierce Brosnan are a decent trio as Donna's ex-boyfriends and Sophie's possible fathers. None of them can sing particularly brilliantly, and Pierce Brosnan sounds a bit like David Bowie would if he couldn't sing, but they do their best and provide a counterweight to all the screaming femininity that makes up a large portion of the film.

And well, the songs are as good as they ever were and I loved every one of them. Obviously, some had to be changed slightly to fit the libretto, but I didn't have any major complaints here except for what they did to 'Lay All Your Love On Me.' If I remember correctly, this song was written just before Bjorn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Faltskog of ABBA (the group was founded when two male musician friends invited their girlfriends to sing with them) finally separated and it's about urging your other half not to stray and to remember where their loyalties lie. The film re-works it as a song about Sky's jealous love for Sophie, but it really doesn't work in the film, when Amanda Seyfried is poncing about coquetteishly in a bathing suit and then starts writhing on the sand in some soft of softcore beach porn moment. It then gets even weirder when Sky's friends, all done up in flippers and snorkel come to take him off for his stag do, and proceed to do some kind of weird penguin dance in a long line. It just doesn't work.

Having said that, I thought the rest of a film was a great success and, frankly, a good deal sexier than I had thought it could be. But then I guess the missing words from the song 'Voulez-vous' are, in most people's minds "couchez avec moi, ce soir?"...

And if you're male and think you won't like it, I have to say I went with my dad and he had a good time. So you never know, it may surprise you.

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