Within seconds of walking in the door tonight and logging on, I received an instant message from my friend Patrick. I’d caught up with him last night for dinner, as he arrived back from a month travelling around Europe and had a few hours to kill between Sydney and Canberra connecting flights. The conversation was short, but sweet. He wanted to know what I thought of “Mamma Mia”, the new movie I’d just seen.
Good mate, Cotton, was able to organise some tickets for the first Australian preview of what’s predicted to be one of this year’s biggest movies. As a bunch of ABBA fans, we were both exicted and anxious about how the songs we have loved for at least three-quarters of our loves would be interpreted in a movie starring the likes of Meryl Streep, Colin Firth and Piers Brosnan.
We all arrived at the cinema on George Street reasonably early. A daytime email from Graeme indicated we would need to check in our mobile phones if they had cameras. “How weird is that?”, I told a workmate, upon receiving the email. He replied that he, too, had been to a couple of movie previews this year where that had been the case in an effort to eliminate piracy.
After checking in our phones, we took our seats. Shortly afterwards, some bloke from Universal told us ours was the third “official” preview in the world, whatever that means. He also encouraged us to tell all of our friends what we thought of the movie.
The opening scene is fantastic. Much better than the musical, I thought, as the character of Sophie sings “I Have A Dream”. It’s then the plotline concerning Sophie’s quest to discover which of three men she invited to her wedding was actually her father is explored. Meryl Streep famously delivers a line about how she was “such a slut”.
For me, the disappointing part of the movie was the early part. It’s all a bit disjointed, and some of the songs don’t seem to fit in all that well. That said, there are some great moments, and the “Dancing Queen” sequence is particularly memorable. It’s a moment of pure joy as a large group of women, led by Meryl, make their way towards the island’s jetty, singing loudly and proudly. There’s also a cameo where Benny Andersson from ABBA makes an appearance playing the piano. “Dancing Queen”, by the way is reprised at the end, in a sequence I also loved.
The middle part of the film is quite distinct from the first. A lot of the clumsiness is eliminated as a number of songs provide a soundtrack for the respective bucks and hens nights. Most memorable for me was the scene with the engaged couple singing “Lay All Your Love On Me” on the beach, in a scene reminiscent of “From Here To Eternity”. It’s also very sexy! Keep an eye out for the extra who Colin Firth makes eye contact with during this sequence, as the same extra turns up later in the film playing an important role.
There is also a third distinct “segment” to the movie. That’s when some of the great moments of the film are revealed. I got quite teary when Meryl sang “Slipping Through My Fingers” (a little known ABBA song about a parent’s regret of missing some of their child’s upbringing), and in “The Winner Takes It All” which is probably the film’s greatest moment. While Agnetha Faltskog sang the song as a shattered woman lacking self-esteem – “I apologise if it makes you feel bad seeing me so tense, no self-confidence” – Meryl’s performance conveys a great deal of confidence and strength. It’s a wonderful moment.
As we left the cinema and stood around I wondered for a moment what I would say when someone asked me what I thought of the movie. When Grant asked me the question and I responded with “mixed feelings”, he agreed. There were some wonderful moments in the film, but there were also some moments that didn’t work all that well.
I’ve seen the musical three times now – London, Sydney, and Melbourne – and of course, I’ve heard the songs thousands of times. Maybe I’d built this up in my mind too much? Maybe we weren’t there with the right crowd? I saw “David & Margaret” (legendary Australian film reviewers), as well as Julie Rigg (who reviews films for Radio National). Beyond that, it seemed like there were a lot of Universal Music staff, and of course, the crazy group of ABBA fans. I didn’t get a sense there was a “buzz” associated with the film. But of course that might be different when the film opens to a broader audience, and when Meryl, Colin and Dominic Cooper visit Australia for the opening night.
I’ll go and see the film again when I arrive in Stockholm. The opening night is next Friday, and of course Bjorn and Benny will be there. I made a brief inquiry to see if I could move my flight earlier to make the preview, but didn’t make too much of an effort. I’m far more interested in going to see the movie again in an ordinary Stockholm cinema. I’m keen to know what people who haven’t spent three quarters of their life listening to ABBA songs think of the movie.