`Mamma Mia!’ and other movie musical mistakes

Jul 30

I know some people who have just flipped over the movie version of Mamma Mia! now plaguing movie theaters. I am not among them.

Having seen the stage version several times, I knew just what I was in for. I enjoyed the show on stage, especially the first time, when the show made its U.S. premiere in San Francisco. I adore the music of ABBA and though the stage version was campy in the right ways, stupid in the right ways and smart in the way it was campy and stupid.

I also adore Meryl Streep when she sings, as she does so brilliantly in Ironweed, Postcards from the Edge, Death Becomes Her and A Prairie Home Companion. I was, however, unprepared for just how ineptly made the movie version of Mamma Mia! was. Director Phyllida Lloyd, who also directed the stage version, had no idea what she was doing, and she and screenwriter Catherine Johnson (who also penned the show) had absolutely no new ideas about turning a stage show into a movie. They even use obvious theatrical lighting for several of the numbers…and all of this is happening on a real Greek island (a Greek island, I might add, that often looks like a soundstage, even when it isn’t). Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Early on I was annoyed by how Lloyd hardly ever let a scene just transpire. She didn’t let actors talk or even complete a sentence without the camera jumping or the awkward of dubbing of lines attempting to smooth over a rough edit. She makes Streep come across strident and ridiculous (and MUCH too old – at nearly 60, Streep looks great, but when we’re spending so much talking about her wild summer 20 years ago when she got pregnant by one of three possible boyfriends, we have to think: What’s wrong with this 40-year-old woman who can’t seem to get her life together?). And she wastes the abundant talents of Julie Walters, sidelined in one of the “best friend” roles. Oddly, Christine Baranski, another of the best friends, gets the movies best number, “Does Your Mother Know,” because the number is contained, and we’re able to get a real sense of Baranski’s performance. This is unlike Walters’ big number, “Take a Chance on Me,” which ends up scrambling across rooftops and making Walters dangle from a roof like a damsel in distress. Horrible.

The closing credits, with the full cast decked in ’70s ABBA finery, could have been fun, but in my bad mood, cultivated by every frame of the movie, I wanted to throw Pet Rocks and burning bras at the screen.

I will say I’m happy that Mamma Mia! is making money because I want the movie musical to continue, despite this creative setback.

But from what I’ve heard, we’re heading into risky territory with upcoming cinematic musical projects.

First, they want to make a sequel to the movie musical Hairspray. A sequel. Never a good idea. The entire creative team from the movie musical (including director/choreographer Adam Shankman and composers Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman) will be on board. Shankman told Variety: “I never thought of musicals as franchises, but it certainly worked with High School Musical, and the idea of working with that cast again, and creating new material and music, is a dream come true. John (Waters) has such an original and extraordinary voice; we all can’t wait to see what he has come up with.”

God only knows what they’ll come up with, but my feeling is they should leave well enough alone.

And here’s another unnecessary project: It’s time to do the “Time Warp” again. MTV is going to remake The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Yes, the 1975 movie that became a midnight cult classic and inspired more men to wear makeup and fishnets than any other film, is going to be made for TV. Maybe in time for Halloween and maybe with some of the music from the stage show that didn’t make it into the movie.

Are there no original ideas left in the world of movie musicals? What’s next, a remake of My Fair Lady? Oh, wait! Yes! And Emma Thompson has been tapped to write the screenplay with Keira Knightley as Eliza Doolittle.

Originality sure ain’t what it used to be. I’m scared that the movie musical I’m most looking forward to – based on one moment in the preview that takes place on the basketball court and in the bleachers – is High School Musical 3.

Just for kicks, let’s actually do “The Time Warp” again.

One comment

  1. this is one of the only plays i’ve ever seen, which ended up being great… it’s funny to think of ol’ Pierce taking a stab at singing, yeeesh

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