Sunday, September 14, 2008


Cast: Meryl Streep. Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgård, Colin Firth, Amanda Seyfried, Julie Walters
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Runtime: 108 min.
Rating: Zero Stars
Genre: Musical, Comedy

        Mamma Mia! made me realize two things – one, that God looks over me for sure, and two, I pretty much deserved what I got. A nasty little incident happened just before I was to present my stub over to the usher – I couldn’t find it. Never happened before, ever, because I keep them like little gold coins. But I just couldn’t find it, and thanks for the good folks down at the theatre they asked me to enter if at all I remembered the seat number. I did, and to my utter peril which I realized only later. I was stupid enough not to walk away when God had presented me the chance, and 108 min. later, I felt like a changed man with a radically altered perception. I’m not sure if you present me with a longer time frame but Mamma Mia! is pretty much the most arduous, the most anguishing and certainly the worst time I had at the movies if you care to take the past one year into account. I believe I have to give Sawaariya another chance. I believe I might have been needlessly cruel to that poor little film.
        I got to admit it here, I’m not sure I’m the guy for Mamma Mia! and neither have I ever heard ABBA. So for an audience member like me, with absolutely no frame of reference, the density and the sheer number of the ABBA songs feel as if they have been vomited on to us. Speaking of which, I wonder if these are the very songs that catapulted that Swedish pop group to the top of the charts during the 70s. I mean, the corny lyrics only seem to believe in rhyming. Never mind, I have never heard them and I won’t pass judgment. I guess they’re one of those pop culture milestones folks like me will never really get but seem to be cherished by millions of fans worldwide.
        A few ABBA songs might have been classified as needless noise that is mildly foot-tapping, but anything feels uphill in Mamma Mia! And anyways, I couldn’t really pay much attention to most of them. I might have, had the film given me a chance, and stop all that pretense that they are enjoying themselves, that they are all drenched and drunk and reveling in their blissful moment of romance with all that jumping and prancing going around. There’s needless antics and forced shrieking. For a musical to be enjoyable, there needs to be a spontaneous burst of energy, one that rubs onto us and one that cannot be designed but can only come from the core of the heart. A musical can never be designed, and Mamma Mia! feels like one. If we wonder what the film is attempting to do, we do not need to look too far behind into the past to see one of the most gorgeous and affable musicals in Enchanted. It is energetic, it is magical, and as I mentioned in my review of that film, you could sit through the entire length of it with a spectra wide smile. There was Amy Adams in there, and between the star power of Streep, Brosnan Skarsgård and Firth they cannot manage even a fraction of her grace or her charm. It doesn’t even matter that not one of the cast-members here feels comfortable singing, and taking into consideration the great talents at their disposal, the film is cruel to them by just not giving them enough meat to have a bite at.
        There’s no plot, except for the premise that a daughter needs to know who her dad is. And if there’s one you might find it difficult to get it out of me even if you care to place a gun on my head. I do not have much of an idea about the stage version either, but it seems the general idea was to have an excuse to include as many ABBA songs as possible into a narrative feebler than a bubble of soap under the length of a regular feature film. It would be spectacular if someone would be kind enough to take the trouble and tell me if all the songs ABBA have ever come with are in there. Thanks in advance. Back to the vomit, er, film.
        This is a film that doesn’t know songs or doesn’t know music. It doesn’t have a sense of choreography and how to frame them. Baz Luhrmann cites Indian films as great influences when he filmed Moulin Rouge and it showed in the impeccable nature of its construction. There’s a lot to be learnt from our films what needs to be done and what needn’t be, but then Mamma Mia! doesn’t have much of an interest there. Its idea of fun usually centers around sex. The jokes pretty much focus on the male and female genitalia. And sex. It is like an island filled with people with their general development arrested in their sixth grade. Usually, I am not too harsh on such jokes, and do not grade them as demented, but my temper has its limits and I’m most enraged when a film blinds me with a flash of Skarsgård’s tattooed butt cheeks. Speaking of which, I find it all very disturbing that Firth is in there alongwith Skarsgård in that boat during that flash and Firth’s character later reveals himself to be gay, especially when the film is rated fit to be watched by the entire family. And if that wasn’t enough, Julie Walters and Christine Baranski make you want to slit your throat unleashing one terrible joke after another (I grew up. Then grow back down again). And this just isn’t the only one, there’re a motherlode of those, and most of them concerning sexual innuendo. There was such hue and cry over The Dark Knight and its nonexistent violent content. That might be nothing compared to what this film accomplishes by its vulgar tone deserving of utter contempt, and I advice you not to take your little children with their impressionable minds to this film, they might have horrifying nights and they will not forgive you.
        Mamma Mia! might have been a film beyond criticism, though not in its present form. It is exploitative cinema of a different nature and if one were to neglect the means, it is no better than all the torture porn doing the rounds. Maybe a shade inferior, because many of those films are technically sound. This one is just plain shoddy in every which sense. There’s no sense of cutting, the actors aren’t exactly in possession of vocals that are worthy of mention on a resume, and often the artificial background sticks out sorely as a bit of amateurish exercise in photoshopping. The women chirp not because the characters demand thus but because someone thinks it is funny and lovable. Rather, it feels greatly annoying. The only thing the film seems to have gotten right is an aerial shot of the Greek island which is gorgeous. I loathe using the term ‘chick-flick’, and I believe it is derogatory. But whatever films the term refers to in general and whatever genre-trappings in particular, the characters in them would surely storm out of Mamma Mia! shouting out it is too contrived, too stupid and too mushy for their taste. A disgrace to their kind. And I would’ve agreed.

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