Wednesday, July 16, 2008
"Mama Mia!" a Boomer's Second Wind
It's tough being a Boomer. Used to being on the leading edge of American culture, Boomers are now falling off onto the slope to...death. Not a pretty picture.
That's why the theater was jammed last night for an advance screening of the successful Broadway play that reprises Abba's greatest hits, "Mama Mia!": boomers embrace its message that "we're not dead yet!" Like the bouncy Meryl Streep, who clearly follows Jane Fonda's active example, there's a lot of life left in this generation. And a lot of folks who like seeing divas sing vintage 80s music--notably the half the audience that appeared to be...gay. And, as an article I was reading in (I think it was) the Wall Street Journal pointed out, Boomer ladies and gay guys together can make a movie profitable. In fact, after the success of "Sex and the City," director Phyllida Lloyd went back, added an extra $1 million to the budget, and shot disco music video footage that was tacked onto the film's end.
I don't think, however, that the fashionistas who saw "Sex and the City" will flock to this offering, even though it's positioned to be a feel-good romp. It IS that, set in a fantasy-island in Greece where sometimes-hilarious musical numbers insert themselves with the choral support of peasants, fishermen and swim-fin-clad beach boys. The story is about an engaged 20-year-old daughter (Amanda Seyfried) raised by her single mom (Streep) who, through snooping, narrows down to three the men who might be her dad. She invites them all to her wedding, hoping to identify her real father, to the shock of Mom and her two equally agile sidekicks (Julie Walters and Christine Baransky).
Those hip young things who boosted SATC to the stratosphere were disappointed with its twisting of their beloved TV characters into tame shadows of their snickeringly naughty selves. They won't like that there's nothing sleek or sophisticated about "Mama Mia!" And while those who accompanied me to last night's screening were more enthralled than I was, I just couldn't escape the downer of Streep and friends' over-the-top physical gyrating that constantly screamed, "I may be old, but watch me jump!"
How high? High enough to offer snazzy non-traditional messages, like "yeah, I was part of the sexual revolution and had sex with three guys in a row!" Or "I am a feminist who caulks concrete cracks, solders window hinges and employs fifty servants in my own hotel!" And "It's OK to forget marriage and run off to explore the world with your boyfriend!"
But of course, if you want logic or cohesion in your story, this is not your movie. In a sense, the lack of sense or background is what lets viewers go with the flow and laugh when sudden songs with wild choreography pop up. After all, the whole plot is merely a vehicle for Abba's Greatest Hits. And that's often enough: a sentimental musical exchange between mother and daughter will slaughter any parent, and the familiarity of the other rhythmic tunes will inspire taking out the iPod for some aerobic celebrating.
Perhaps if I were on the other end of this generational tale, I wouldn't find it subtly depressing, as I do. I remember my own world jaunting, and the Greece of this film was one of my favorite destinations--I wandered the isles on three trips, even sleeping in a teensy supplies storeroom on the unpopulated side of Naxos one time, when all the hotels there were full. The truth is, youth is great; the wisdom of age is over-rated. At least "Mama Mia!" effectively and happily lies, a pleasant escape to azure waters and the years of Abba.