Sunday, July 20, 2008

Roxie's Watching: Mamma Mia!

(Photo Credit: Peter Mountain, Universal Pictures, via NYT)

Goose's Extremely Short Review of Mamma Mia!: I could watch Meryl Streep playing poop on toast and be utterly mesmerized. And happy.

Moose's Snarky Addendum to Goose's Extremely Short Review of Mamma Mia!: Agreed. But I would vote for Barack Obama if he promised to support a constitutional amendment banning Pierce Brosnan from ever singing in public again.

Goose's Pithy Rejoinder to Moose's Snarky Addendum to Goose's Extremely Short Review of Mamma Mia!: Agreed. And I don't suppose the fact that Brosnan is not a US citizen will be any impediment to the Great and Powerful Lesser being able to enforce such an amendment once it unanimously passes both houses of Congress and is ratified by all fifty-seven states. He Who Sees All will surely see to that.

Per usual, we digress, even when the subject is an estrogen-fueled summer diversion as puffy as a cloud of cotton candy featuring actresses we just flat-out adore -- not only Streep but the bad-ass Christine Baranski, whom we've loved since her days as Cybill Shepherd's drunken sidekick on TV's Cybill. A. O. Scott's review in the Times does a marvelous job of capturing the perverse delights and the deep flaws of Mamma Mia! Scott is kind to everyone in the film, with the possible exception of director Phyllida Lloyd, and happily succumbs to "its relentless, ridiculous charm" and its loopy disco-powered sensibility. (For those of you too cool to tune in to such vulgar tripe, Mamma Mia! is the musical that was always waiting to be plucked out of the oeuvre of ABBA, the phenomenally successful Swedish pop group who made the 1970s worth living, at least according to the chief Dancing Queen of Roxie's World. The show was brought to the stage in 1999 by producer Judy Craymer.)

Mamma Mia! requires nothing or everything of its audience, depending on your position on a) the musical as a theatrical genre, b) disco as a musical form and cultural force, c) movies adapted from stage musicals based on pop cultural phenomena of the 1970s, and d) major Hollywood actresses faced with a dearth of decent roles for women over the age of, um, 23.
  • If you are among the happy people willing to enter into the illusion that figures on stage or screen would and should spontaneously burst into song and that all the minor personages cluttering the background of any scene will suddenly morph into a perfectly synchronized troupe of hoofers and belters;
  • if you believe that a coherent plot may be an obstacle to narrative pleasure and not a source of it;
  • if you believe that the end of the disco era was a cultural tragedy comparable to the assassination of JFK or the dropping of the atomic bomb;
  • if you enjoy the spectacle of women well over 50 being goofy, sexy, unabashedly proud of their middle-aged bodies and unconditionally supportive of one another, while singing;
  • if you have always secretly believed that "The Winner Takes It All" is better than anything Mozart ever wrote,
then you will enjoy Mamma Mia!. If not, go see The Dark Knight and come back here and tell us all about it. The truth is, we're not giving the film a top-of-the-chart 5-Paw Rating. It's a 4 at best, even with Streep having a ball and Baranski raising the roof of the theater with her killer performance of "Does Your Mother Know?" The movement from stage to screen is always tricky, and it isn't without its problems here. The illusions of the musical are harder to accept on screen and less comically effective than they are on stage. With the exception of Baranski, none of the leads is truly a great singer or dancer, and Brosnan is genuinely, cringe-inducingly bad. Moose left the theater muttering that he made Christopher Plummer's wan vocals in The Sound of Music sound like Pavarotti.

Nonetheless, if you love musicals, disco, Streep, and the azure waters of the Aegean, you could do worse than to spend a couple of hours giggling and humming your way through Mamma Mia!. Streep's 5-minute "The Winner Takes It All" is worth the price of the ticket, because in this brief interlude the film earns the emotion it's working a little too hard to get in other moments. Here, you feel the pain of Streep's Donna over her 20-year separation from Brosnan's Sam. And here, Streep cuts loose and lets you see that there's a real belter underneath the porcelain goddess with the MFA from Yale. Here's a snippet from the final minute. Work it, girlfriend:


  1. You really should go see The Dark Knight. It is as close to opera as you can get from pop entertainment, all the while being a thoroughly grim, complex, and nuanced literary adaptation. If for nothing else, you just need to see Heath Ledger's performance -- it's a little bit Jack Torrance, a little bit Frank Booth, and a whole lot of Alex DeLarge. It's an unhinged performance, demented and maniacal in all the right ways. The chasm between Heath's Ennis Del Mar and Joker is astonishing.

    As for the 57 state quote, can everyone give it a rest? It doesn't really come through in Obama's voice, but it's clearly a joke -- just an underhanded reference to the ridiculous fact that this year, Guam, Puerto Rico, Democrats Abroad, and all sorts of other non-general-election-voting groups mattered in all sorts of weird ways. I'll accept that Obama is a pansy or a socialist, but I think he knows how many states there are.


  2. Anonymous11:43 AM EDT

    Well, the winner of the Idaho and Wyoming caucuses hardly has any standing to complain that Democrats in Guam and Puerto Rico were permitted to participate in the primary, since he'll get exactly as many electoral college votes in the general election from those states as he will from those U.S. territories. Which is to say, ZERO, so what makes the votes of Guam and Puerto Rico so ridiculous?

    Gee, I wonder how the news media would have covered Hillary Clinton suggesting that there were *too many* people voting in the primary?

  3. You've talked us into seeing The Dark Knight, Eitan, but I'm afraid we shall brook no quarter on the 57 state remark. Roxie's World is strongly committed to mocking politicians. Pretty much everything else has been ruled out of bounds regarding Obama: It's racist to point out that his resume is thin, divisive to note that he's moved so far to the right that he and McCain are now pretty much New Coke and Old Coke, and criminally insane to suggest that progressives should vote for someone else or stay home. If his supporters can't bear gentle mockery of a publicly recorded gaffe, well, I feel sorry for them and fear for the future of humor in the republic.

    Rest assured, dear readers, that Roxie's World will do everything in its limited power to guarantee that we all die laughing, regardless of party.

  4. Here's the thing, though. Obama has made plenty of gaffes. Make fun of the fake presidential seal all you want. (Made me want to barf too.) Make fun of his bizarre 4-hour gym visits last week. But it's pretty clear that his "57 States" quote was a joke, and mocking a joke makes a mockery of mocking.

    Also, there's so much good McCain material to work with. Czechoslovakia is still a country? I had no idea.

  5. ". . .mocking a joke makes a mockery of mocking": Heck, yes, my friend -- Let's go META!

  6. Anonymous4:55 PM EDT


    By the way, I searched the Internet for “poop on toast” and was disappointed that Roxie’s World wasn’t at the top of the results (from being the originator of the phrase, not from resembling the product, of course. I would compare the blog to an everything bagel with whipped philly cc).

  7. That IS disappointing, isn't it, Spudz? (Welcome back, btw. Lovely to see you.) We are touched that you thought the phrase "poop on toast" originated with us, but, crude as we are, we weren't the first to offer up that scatological breakfast treat. On the other hand, I think it's fair to say we were the first to use "Butch PhD," though that term is of course derived from the insanely popular blog, "Bitch PhD." On the other other hand, we are right at the top of a search on "sex pervs for Hillary" because of a silly post we did featuring a picture of Hillary and Elton John. Sigh. We take our glory where it comes in the cold cruel world of the internets.

  8. What do you mean "enter the illusion" that people can burst out in song at any time and dance in what seems to be a choreographed number? That's what we need more of in this world! C'mon, folks, we've got magic to do!

  9. well the touch upgrade now allows me to post cmments and displays YouTube brilliantly! so I got to love the bit of Streep. nice going!


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