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Take a chance ... on DVD

Mamma Mia!'s out on DVD today. (Some might say "DVD and Blu-Ray," but I remain swaddled in Downy-soft, blissful denial concerning the existence of the latter. So, there you go. I am a happy island, frozen in time somewhere around 2005. [On a related note, I think this Obama fella may have a serious shot.])

So, I meant to post a review back during the summer, around the film's open date. It's an understandably popular timing strategy in "the biz," one you may recognize from just about every other review you've ever read by anyone in the history of ever. It makes sense: Review movies that are currently in theaters. And, like I said, I meant to conform, meant to post it back in July. Complications arose, though, when I didn't. Now, though, lest you think you'd dodged a bullet, I present, for the first time anywhere, my brief, abhorrently-late-for-the-opening-but-more-or-less-on-the-money-for-the-DVD-release opinion of Mamma Mia! [begun 7/22/2008]. (You're welcome.) Into the time machine: 

Look, I’ll lay this out at “go”: I went to see Mamma Mia! chiefly because my wife wanted to. I say that not by way of excuse or disavowment, but in order to begin mapping out for you my temperamental landscape at the time, so that you may run any of my subsequent comments concerning the film through that particular pyschoemotional strainer — along with, once again, the ol’ catchall grain of salt.

Possibly Significant Factor #2: On our way into the theater, a critic friend informed us that I’d gotten certain dates mixed up and that, at that very moment, the Dark Knight IMAX press screening (which I’d thought was scheduled for the night after) was starting across town. Which meant that, as we sat down to a disco musical, I was missing my last (free) chance at catching what [had] arguably been the summer’s most impatiently awaited action epic on a decadently mammoth, grabs-and-your-eyes-and-screams-at-'em-sized screen. (We saw it, instead, the next evening, on the perfectly-reasonably-sized, only-regular-big screen. Everything was fine.)

I feel bad, sometimes, opening a review with a disclaimer. There’s a sense in which it might be said to do a disservice to the considered film. I don't mean it in that sense. I only mean it to fill word count. Which, in a blog, doesn't apply. Hmm. Away, then.

Speaking of the film: It's fun. Kinda. In parts. No, yeah, it is. Well, I mean, look. Here's the thing: I'm not going to get away with saying it's fantastic, because it isn't, and my conscience would intervene. But come on. To paraphrase probably every other review of this film that you'll read (you know, all the on-time ones): Dude it's an ABBA musical. You know? And as such, it will all-but-certainly leave the open-minded-but-non-ABBA-savvy among us with two prevailing thoughts: (1) "Huh -- I didn't know ABBA sang that. That's kinda catchy"; and, post-viewing, (2) "Well, that was kinda goofy and cornball, but I feel oddly chipper now, and I can't be mad about that."

Do we need to talk about the story? Really? I mean, I started to try to tell someone about it today, and ... can't I just say "ABBA musical" and be done with it? The film's Imdb.com page does a pretty bang-up summary job: "The story of a bride-to-be trying to find her real father ... using hit songs by the popular '70s group ABBA." That's about as appropriate a description as I could ever conjure, at least in terms of conveying the story's concern with realism. But see? Realism? In a flick carpeted with Swedish disco interludes?

So, yeah. Instead of plot description, here's a fact** about ABBA: If you've ever wondered if its name came from simply combining the initials of the band members' first names into a phonetically tenable acronym (or, at least, one more pleasing than BABA or BAAB), I'm pretty sure that's a sizeable 10-4.  

Oh, wait. According to Dictionary.com:

Ab⋅ba [ab-uh]

–noun (sometimes lowercase)

1. a title of reverence for bishops and patriarchs in the Coptic, Ethiopian Christian, and Syriac churches.
2. New Testament
.
an Aramaic word for father, used by Jesus and Paul to address God in a relation of personal intimacy.

I'm a dick.

Or, wait. maybe not. Classicbands.com seems to think it was an acronym, and that it came from both a newspaper competition and record-label owner/eventual band manager Stig Anderson.

Hmm.

Anyway, back to the film. There's been chatter, I think, about the use of non-singers in principal roles. About Pierce Brosnan, maybe. And here's the thing: Yeah, maybe it would've been different (and sure, possibly "better") if they'd packed the thing with prodigious belters. But really, that's a hefty part of the film's charm. Brosnan's trying his heart out, and yours (or maybe just mine, if you're a frigid, unfeeling icebeast who's incapable of empathy) goes out to him as a result. The whole thing sort of feels like you're watching a staff talent show at the annual office party: Things could be tighter, or a whole heckuva lot less silly, but it's endearing, and they seem to be having so much fun that it's hard not to catch a bit of it yourself. And of course, Julie Walters knows what she's doing. Ditto Christine Baranski. And Amanda Seyfried can sing her face off. And Meryl Streep can do anything.

So, ladies, will your football-lovin' dad or dudefriend turn to you as the credits begin to roll and say, "You know, I was afraid this was going to be girly, but I completely forgot I was watching a musical"? Oh, good gravy, no. But your mom'll probably like it. Heck, the guys'll probably be unable to hate it, too. I enjoyed it, and I like football. Those songs will bore a hole into your skull and nestle snugly within your brain, and you'll be okay with it -- because, as I've found during these last few months, you can't be in a bad mood if you're singing ABBA (but I mean really singing ABBA). I'd be lying if I said I hadn't stopped this blog earlier to create an ABBA channel on Pandora.com. (I'd be lying further if I said I'm not listening to that channel right ... now.) And that's really the point: I can certainly understand people not going nuts over Mamma Mia!, or deciding it is't for them, but I can't really picture anyone virulently despising it. 'Cause really, bottom line: it's hard to be grumpy in the face of so much unrepentant joy.

**Here, the word "fact" is used loosely to mean "combination of a hunch and a pointed scan of the band's Wikipedia page to determine whether said first initials could be assembled, Voltron-like, to form said acronym. Bingo. 

Posted by brian on 12/16/2008 12:51:15 PM
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