Last night I squandered one of my rare nights out with a friend (Katie) to go see Mamma Mia! and I gotta say, all the good acting in the world really can’t help you if you’re a lousy singer. Priscilla John, bless her heart, did a fantastic job casting movies like A Fish Called Wanda, Brassed Off, About a Boy, Little Voice, and Driving Lessons. She gave the excellent Djimon Hounsou, a total unknown, an important role in Amistad. She’s pals with Ewan McGregor, who really knows how to sing. Why, oh why, then, did she forget what she knows and cast Mamma Mia with a bunch of people who are incredibly famous and talented, but aren’t right for the parts?
I love, love, love, Meryl Streep and Colin Firth, and I think Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgard are excellent actors, too. I also enjoy brilliant casting against type. But, OUCH! It physically hurt me to see Brosnan straining at his singing parts, and although Streep tried valiantly to make me think of her as an aging, but still fun-loving, hippie-type rock star, I kept getting distracted by her Streepiness. And Christine Baranski? OUCH!
Caution! Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t seen Mamma Mia yet, don’t read any farther!
Parts of the movie were terrific. Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper, relative unknowns, were absolutely perfect and wonderful, and I fell in love with them both. I loved (most of) the music, the location was magical, the costumes were fantastic, and the lighting designer worked miracles. But Julie Walters did such a great job, totally inhabiting her character, pulling off both the slapstick and the singing for most of the movie, that it was really painful to watch the last couple of minutes where she’s chasing after Skarsgard like that lone gal on Pirates of the Caribbean chasing after a hapless pirate instead of vice-versa.
Maybe I shouldn’t blame it all on the casting. The play is completely silly and the set-ups for some of the songs are totally ridiculous. I just found myself thinking, as I left the theatre, that there have been so many great musical movies lately, including Once, Across the Universe, and Hairspray, that I know the genre isn’t dead. It’s just movies like Mamma Mia that give musicals a bad reputation.