Jul 28, 2008

Mama Mia!

I had no idea the entire musical oeuvre of ABBA was really about a girl looking for her true father before she gets married on a Greek Island. This is the storyline on which the writer hangs 18 ABBA songs in Mamma Mia! It gives you an idea of the immense popularity of ABBA’s music that this combination of story and song has produced a worldwide theatrical smash hit. As if 400 million records sold didn’t already tell us this.

If you have to write the book or script for a musical, the big problem you have to solve is how to use the songs to drive the story. Otherwise story and song become two separate tracks and the audience waits for the song to end so they can get back to what happens next.

But in Mamma Mia! this problem is reversed. The storyline is so lame, absurd and emotionally phony that the audience can’t wait to hear another catchy song to find relief from the awful script. I’ve never been a big ABBA fan, but during the course of this movie I came to believe that they were the greatest musical geniuses in history; such was the chasm between story and song.

And then there is the matter of the casting. Any director will tell you that 80-90% of the job is who you pick to play the roles. This has to be the worst cast movie in modern memory. Most of these actors are at least 20 years too old for their parts. Watching 60+ Meryl Streep cavorting like a 15-year-old teeny bopper was one of the five most painful moments of my life. And Pierce Brosnan will surely be nominated for best statue imitating a person trying to sing. In fact, the casting of this movie was so mind-boggling that I realized it was actually a stroke of genius in which the filmmakers were using aged movie stars to highlight the artistic absurdity of the entire decade of the 70s.

What can a screenwriter learn from this train wreck? Well, first, be sure to make friends with the most popular candy pop band in history so they will give you the rights to 18 of their songs, and then you can write a horrible script tying them all together and no one will care. Second…