There’s a moment in Mama Mia! where I almost felt like my time and money hadn’t been wasted. That life might be worth living again. As Meryl Streep and her screaming friend-goons go hip-swiveling out of their spit-shined studio and into the real-live Grecian seaport village the producers rented for the week, I started to notice something hilariously horrible about the movie’s subtext. While all these pasty AmeriBrits are gurgling along to ABBA tunes way past their vocal range, the actual, dirt-stained villagers they hired as extras are busy in the background toiling away at their daily lives. After Wall-E’s moronic cartoon mallet of a political message, this kind of subtle class warfare on the fringes of a summer movie seemingly meant for only middle-aged gay stereotypes and sexless wives with early onset Alzheimer’s was pretty refreshing. Maybe this was why Meryl decided to trade her dignity for a chance to wave her arms and wrap her ass in a pair of overalls. (Inexplicably alluring ass, though it is.)
But just as the chorus line goes skipping down an orchard path to the beat of “Dancing Queen”, a hunchbacked peasant carrying a pallet of twigs home for, I’m assuming, dinner perks up to the disco and shrugs off her burdens, joining the fray. This isn’t some kind of message movie. This is absurdist satire. Suddenly, I found myself grinning, even clapping along with one of the sexless wives jingling her bracelets beside me. For an entire verse, the muffled booms from the The Dark Knight screening next door seemed to beat in time. There’s a particular piano note near the end of the song, and instead of simply letting it go by unnoticed, who knows how many dollars in costly setup were spent actually lifting a baby grand piano on top of a fishing boat and training a local grime-digger to play that note at the camera. Maybe Mamma Mia! would turn out to follow the path set by Wet Hot American Summer and just get weirder and weirder.
Sadly, aside from an out-of-nowhere homosexual embrace involving Colin Firth and a shirtless, dripping extra no more favorable comparisons could be made. Just as “Dancing Queen” was the height of both ABBA’s career and any episode of Coast to Coast AM with Art Bell, Mamma Mia! was all downhill from there. Look, I didn’t go in expecting much, but this thing is like a kind of meta chastisement of the whole act of movie making. Fuck them for making this thing. Fuck me for being there watching it. Somewhere on MySpace is a suicide blog entry with no text—just the title “Mamma Mia!”. Currently listening to: my skull resonating with the click of a loaded chamber.
But instead of giving in to despair, let’s examine what we can learn from Mamma Mia!. For one thing, no one should ever again cast Amanda Seyfried in anything. Here, she plays Meryl streep’s daughter, though she seems more like the genetic cross between Marty Feldman and a Bratz doll. If there’s an emotion she can’t express by ejecting her eyeballs from their sockets and vibrating her eyebrows, she’s not interested in it. Also? While both Pierce Brosnan and Bob Dylan have an annoying tendency to cover their lack of vocal range by simply yelling, only one of them can explain to your soul what he means by jewels and binoculars hanging from the head of a mule. And finally, nothing—no, nothing—can spoil the sweetness off of Meryl Streep’s ass.
However, as cruel an exercise as Mamma Mia! turned out to be, no single event this summer movie season can match the utter reptilian heartlessness of Commissioner Gordon sending police to tell his wife and children he’s been killed. And before you tell me he wasn’t yet commissioner when he decided to Punk his family’s hopes and dreams, there’s one thing you should know: Fuck you.