It’s hard for me to be critical of one of my most beloved, familiar, and well wrought shows turned movies. Especially when some of my favorite actresses and actors are in the production. How am I supposed to write without bias? Meryl Streep is my queen and I bow down willingly to her.
But let me tell you what I didn’t like. It’s sometimes easier that way, isn’t it?
I actually remember thinking, when the movie was being cast, that Ms. Streep was too old to be Donna. You have to think about the movies timeline. Sophie is 20. Donna was between 20-22 when she had Sophie, meaning she’s in her early 40s when the movie opens. Meryl was nearer to early 50s–granted, the woman did not look a day over 40 and could sing, dance better than any one else who could’ve been cast.. but was she believable?
I found it difficult to believe. I had been following her career since I first saw her in Death Becomes Her. What a friggin hoot. Her and Goldie Hawn.
Does this make me a woman hater? I hope not. I support women, and all people, cast into roles their personality and characteristics fit. They should not be bucketed into an age, sex, or look. If the role works for what they present, why not cast them? Adjust the script and figure it out. This script didn’t necessarily need to change, the character would have just been 30 versus 20 – but the point of Donna is that she is so young when she has Sophie and she doesn’t want Sophie, her daughter, to make the same/similar mistakes she did.
This. This is where I struggle to believe in Meryl. It’s not just Meryl either. Aside from the, and for lack of better distinction, children and Greek chorus in the film – all of the other cast members are older than how I imagined them. I think I am such a stickler for this because it is so hard finding roles for people, especially women, in their 40s. Women go from bombshell blockbusters to decrepit grandmothers haunting a family in the attack. Especially in Hollywood.
I don’t know what her, or any of the casts, auditions were like – she could (and ultimately was) the best option. She has a name, she can sing (thank god), and she danced beautifully. Do I overlook the age discrepancy? Gladly. Is that the only thing that is wrong with the movie? No.
The play is actually different. All the music is generally the same– you still want to get out of your seat and dance but… it’s not the same. The island plays a crucial plot point in the movie, it’s hard to imagine that this story started on the stage (that it started from an ABBA album is another post entirely). Props and set pieces are paramount for stage productions – chairs aren’t just chairs, they are a stage enhancement for Donna and the gang to sing on.
And, in my opinion, the biggest loss for the movie. Where’s the chorus?
There’s a Greek chorus which plays a much larger role in the show than they do in the movie. In the movie it’s really unfortunate that the chorus don’t get enough screen time, the camera takes their role in moving the story and perspective along for the audience. In both the movie and play, a patron/audience member doesn’t move or see the show from a different perspective (unless they see it multiple times). However, for a film, the camera takes a viewer on the journey. BUT(!), And this is a big but, the chorus leads the audience through the story. They change the set, prep the costumes, engage with the lead actors and even engage with the audience.
To me, and to my favorite musical director, there are few things more important in a musical than the ensemble. While it didn’t necessarily do any harm to the film, it did take away a bit of the vibrato in some of the ensemble numbers that are intended to be larger than life when performed on stage with the entire cast.
Now, you might be asking.. why is she writing a review for a show and film that has been out for several years? Almost a decade at this point. Because Hollywood is doing something I feel a majority of Broadway shows don’t do (can you think of any examples?). They are making a sequel. Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again. Why? Who knows–but I am intrigued because it’s going to provide a new, fresh perspective of Donna and her adventures that lead her into the life we saw. I wanted to be ready to review that movie with an initial review of this musical-turned-movie.
I hope you enjoyed, I’d love to know what you think about the musical-turned-movie and the necessity (?) of a sequel. ‘Til next time.