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Mamma Mia!

by rufnek
posted on 7/21/08
I saw a movie this weekend that I enjoyed more than anything I’ve seen in years. Better than No Country for Old Men, Better than There Will be Blood, worlds better than Sweeny Todd, even better than the original 3:10 to Yuma. So what was it? Mama Mia!

Hey, imagine my surprise! A film filled with the songs of ABBA sounded at first like my idea of nothing. I never cared for ABBA when they were big back in the days of Disco. Never cared for Disco, either. But I had liked the 1994 Australian hit Muriel's Wedding, which also featured a (smaller) ABBA soundtrack. Besides, my wife wanted to see it, and it was showing at this combination movie/café near our house, so we could combine dinner and a movie. The outing turned into a real hoot. There were more people in that particular theater than we had experienced before—several of us older folk but also lots of younger people who couldn’t have any memory of Disco. When the music started, however, people were clapping, waving their arms, singing along. I haven’t seen such audience participation since the Rocky Horror Picture Show. There was a young black woman on our row clapping and singing along with every song, a middle aged woman a few rows down waving her arms as she sang. I expected to see people start dancing in the aisle. And after each song, people would applaud! How often do you hear applause for movies nowadays? It was the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater in years.

Like I said, I don’t know anything about ABBA, so I don’t know if they play all their hits or not. Their only song that I could name prior to the movie was “Dancing Queen,” which the film turned into a dance anthem for Greek women’s liberation in one of the movie’s most rollicking scenes. Later they came up with another tune that I vaguely remembered, “The Winner Takes It All,” which became Meryl Streep’s confrontation with Pierce Brosnan over their lost love. I used to not be a fan of Streep’s; whatever she was doing pretty much shot past me for years, although I did like her work in Death Becomes Her and Devil Wears Prada. But I became a fan in the scene where she sings “The Winner Takes It All.” I knew she sang in other productions but was surprised to find she’s really good. But more than that, the way she emotes while singing that song, it could have been dialogue not just a song, because she’s commenting on her character and what she has risked and what she has lost while breaking all ties with a man she once loved. It is easily the best scene in the entire film, and it took a hell of an actress to bring it off without diminishing it.

Brosnan, on the other hand, is definitely not a singer, but bless his heart, he gives it his best and doesn’t look foolish while he’s doing it. Anyway, it’s a fun film and I highly recommend it. And take a date. And don’t leave when the closing credits start rolling, because Streep, Julie Walters, and Christine Baranski come on singing “Dancing Queen” as the rock group that, in the movie, they once were, in costumes that defy description or timelines (was anyone really that weird back in the ‘60s and ‘70s?). But hold onto your seats after that performance when, with credits still rolling, they’re joined in “Waterloo” by Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard in outlandish outfits that neither the Village People nor Elvis would have had the guts to wear! It’s pure fantasy and fun entertainment from start to finish.

PS I think parts of this movie must have been filmed on Majorca, Spain’s biggest island, because I’d swear that some of the background scenery is exactly the same as that in the 1982 movie, Murder Under the Sun.