Searching for Clues

The Hollywood Reporter‘s Ray Bennett has raved about Mamma Mia! from London, where it’ll open next Friday (7.4). How does a dedicated sourpuss and Europop/ABBA hater cast doubts and aspersions without having seen the film? Obviously he can’t and shouldn’t. The watchword should always be “try to be fair.” The sourpuss can, however, sniff the air for girly-girl fumes, for hints of vapidity or plasticity or anything that feels like excessive fizz.
The word “fun,” for example, has been known to strike fear in the hearts of ardent film lovers. “Fun,” as we all know, is a code word that usually means the kind of shallow exuberance best appreciated by women and gay guys. Bennett’s statement therefore that “no matter how many blockbusters there are, Universal Pictures’ screen version of the global hit stage musical is the most fun to be had at the movies this or any other recent summer” is perhaps cause for concern. Perhaps, I say. Or perhaps not.
“Teenage boys may be glued to the latest action adventure, but the rest of the family will be having a rollicking good time and dancing in the aisles to Swedish pop group ABBA’s irresistible songs,” Bennett says. Does “the rest of the family” include dad and Uncle Frank and his son Carl as well as grandpappy Amos with the limp and the overalls? I don’t think so. And I say this as a straight guy who’s occasionally succumbed to shallow pop tunes with cleverly delivered hooks, like Paul McCartney‘s “No More Lonely Nights.”
“It’s a delightful piece of filmmaking with a marvelous cast topped by Meryl Streep in one of her smartest and most entertaining performances ever,” Bennett writes. I don’t mean to sound like a pisshead, but isn’t the use of “delightful,” “marvelous” and “entertaining” in the same sentence reason to wonder about the reviewer’s critical scrutiny levels and his general susceptibility to the gush impulse?

  • The Pope

    Let’s take another look at your comments about Mamma Mia! Let’s change a few choice words and revel in the stupidity. As is so often the case, what you right is not criticism but abject phobia.
    “How does a dedicated sourpuss and ACTION-ADVETURE hater cast doubts and aspersions without having seen the film (say, THE DARK KNIGHT / IRON MAN / TRANSFORMERS / WANTED)? Obviously he can’t and shouldn’t. The watchword should always be “try to be fair.” The sourpuss can, however, sniff the air for GEEK-BOY fumes, for hints of vapidity or plasticity or anything that feels like excessive fizz.
    The word “fun,” for example, has been known to strike fear in the hearts of ardent film lovers. “Fun,” as we all know, is a code word that usually means the kind of shallow exuberance best appreciated by TEENAGE BOYS and GROWN MEN WHO STILL GET A KICK OUT OF WATCHING THINGS EXPLODE.

  • bone

    “How does a dedicated sourpuss and Europop/Abba hater cast doubts and aspersions without having seen the film? ”
    Why ask the question when you don’t care about the answer? Just write up your review for this movie now along with how production of the Hobbit by Peter Jackson that gets in the wall of del Toro’s great direction.

  • James Leer

    You’re a real asshole, Jeff. Anything that doesn’t appeal to you brings out this truly small-minded, slur-hurling side that puts Dave Poland to shame (and you’ve succumbed to this intensely self-regarding idea that anyone who “can’t take it” — when “it” is just your garden variety over-fifty xenophobia, dressed up — is part of the problem).
    I really used to like this site, too.

  • http://www.movingpictureblog.blogspot.com Joe Leydon

    Er, Jeff: Don’t know how to tell you this, but the pop-culture allusion to Grandpappy Amos kinda-sorta dates you as, oh, I dunno, about two generations older than most of your readers here. Seriously. The Real McCoys hasn’t been on the air since 1963. And I haven’t ever heard of it being too wildly popular in syndication.

  • erniesouchak

    I would describe the first half of “Hancock” and the first half of “Wall-E” as “fun.” Sometimes it’s just an applicable word, Wells!

  • T. Holly

    Go for it Scott. Scott, you didn’t really do what I asked you to…
    http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/film/reviews/article_display.jsp?&rid=11342
    …pitch it to roving bands of young squarely hetero men in search of an interesting bonding experience in boys night out, but make sure to include what Meryl thinks of the men in the story and find your rage for them before they do it for themselves, please.

  • http://www.pen15club.net Rob

    It is an amateurishly written review, even for THR. But I resent the assertion that gay guys and women have lesser taste because we’re not constantly jerking off to the 2 1/2 Hour, Nine Figure Budget Comic Book Movie of the Week.
    Oh, and my straight Republican accountant dad LOVED Hairspray.

  • gruver1

    Wells to erniesouchak: The first half of WALL*E is “fun”? That isn’t quite how I’d put it. You know perfectly well what I’m saying when I express caution about the use of the word “fun” in a movie review. Especially when the movie is an ABBA musical and has a moment when two young female characters say in unison, “Oh…my… God.” In this context, in this atmosphere, the word “fun” is definitely cause for concern. And you know exactly what I’m getting at and yet you pretend otherwise. Why is that, I wonder?
    Wells to Leydon: If Quentin Tarantino has referenced Grandpappy Amos in Jackie Brown by having, say, either Sam Jackson or Robert De Niro‘s character allude to the guy in some way, you wouldn’t have said a word. I was trying to go -super-basic and primary as far as regular-Joe, down-on-the-farm archetypes of the traditional American family. What old-gramps figure is permissible to bring up? Peter Boyle’s on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” I guess. At least I didn’t reference Pa Kettle, Pa Joad, Wallace Berry’s Bill, James Gleason’s character in “Here Comes Mr. Jordan,” Gabby Hayes or William Frawley’s character on “I Love Lucy.”
    Wells to James Leer: First, you’re banned for using personally abusive language in a post. Okay, I won’t ban you but this is your last warning. Second, no — ABBA music doesn’t appeal to me. Given the cards-on-the-table, shoot-from-the-hip nature of this site, what am I supposed to say in response to Ray Bennett’s review — yes, it does appeal to me and I can’t wait to see and fall in love with Mamma Mia!? Did I not say I agree that one shouldn’t cast doubts and aspersions without seeing a film first? Did I not say the watchword should always be “try to be fair”? I felt it was fair, however, to respond to the vibe and the fumes in Bennett’s review, which I felt were fairly obvious. You can paddle down the Nile all you want, but we all know what “fun” means when the subject is a movie of this type. Hah, hah.

  • http://fienprint.blogspot.com Fien Print

    The Hollywood Reporter review is rather funny in its over-the-top purple prose praise of the movie. If somebody posted that review on Ain’t It Cool, the TalkBack wonks would yell “PLANT!!!” in unison, but because it’s a trade, there’s a certain measure of legitimacy, I guess.
    But I suppose if the movie’s good, it’s good. Who knows? If every other critic who views “Mama Mia” has a similar sentiment, I reckon I’ll go see it. Otherwise, it probably isn’t my cuppa either…

  • Balthazar

    I’m a guy in my late 30s who grew up when ABBA was on the radio and it was somewhat dangerous to admit you liked them.
    As the years went on, I must admit that I can to like ABBA even more and they’re definitely a guilty pleasure. And it’s even more shameful to admit that you like ABBA in 2008 than it was in 1978 or 1988. It’s an instant lightning-rod for teasing.
    Bottom line: ABBA’s music is fun, and this movie looks fun.
    It’s OK if some movies aspiring to nothing more than being “fun.” Honest.

  • T. Holly

    But we want to take reviewers seriously. I could deconstruct this movie and still enjoy it.

  • Bocephus

    I don’t think people are expecting anything more than “fun” from the ABBA musical. Honestly, Jeff, I think you could pass on reviewing this one completely and we would all understand. Unless you can find enough to really tear into it like your SATC review, which was a riot.
    Also, I’m gay and wild horses couldn’t drag me to a Mamma Mia screening.

  • http://www.movingpictureblog.blogspot.com Joe Leydon

    Jeff: At least you didn’t bring Uncle Tonoose into the discussion. But remember this: Some people on this blog have no living memory of a time when M*A*S*H was a first-run, prime-time series — and Law & Order wasn”t.

  • T. S. Idiot

    Always preferred Fuzzy St. John to Gabby Hayes.

  • Richardson

    “At least I didn’t reference Pa Kettle, Pa Joad, Wallace Berry’s Bill, James Gleason’s character in “Here Comes Mr. Jordan,” Gabby Hayes or William Frawley’s character on “I Love Lucy.””
    Quick tip: if somebody tells you that you’re dating yourself by making a reference to something really, really outdated, it doesn’t really help your case to refer to half a dozen other things which are even more dated.

  • Richardson

    “Meryl Streep in one of her smartest and most entertaining performances ever”
    This, not the use of the word “fun”, is the part that you should be mocking relentlessly. I am sorry to pre-judge this movie harshly, but I absolutely refuse to believe that this is one of Meryl Streep’s smartest performances ever.

  • Gaydos

    These exchanges are going to be hard to beat for pure “fun.”
    Every day on this site I read odes to comic book movies and other generally witless Hollywood blockbusters that must contain some scintilla of street cred or SOMETHING but appear to be to me little more than cleverly crafted amusement park wanks and endless paragraphs are tossed out in rapturous wonder at these sfx behemoths, both by Jeff and by his loyal readers and now the ABBA movie is getting torn a new one cos someone dared to suggest it might be “fun???!?!?!?”
    That’s not easy to say with false teeth, and Joe, please don’t bust a cap on me for quoting from a Sturges film.
    Sign me, Still waiting for a movie I like as much as “Lives of Others,” never mind I just saw it and it’s called Wall E and it was actually LOADS OF FUN.
    Remember: “Consistency is the hobgoblin of small studio executive minds.”

  • Michael Cavayero

    To be honest, I think the fact that this is a musical or that it√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s filled with ABBA music is irrelevant. Doesn√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢t Meryl Streep’s casting in this film, rather her choice to do this film, make the movie itself, almost like a Ready-made art object? A piece?
    Meryl Streep choosing (and I emphasize the word ‘choosing’) to do this movie, to me, makes the film important to see. Streep more than ever, after her consistent recent career, built on top of a career already defined by three decades of grown credibility and prestigious, and unique choices, makes her a living Canon √ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Ǩ≈ì untouched as a figure both in cinema and in culture.
    There are many ‘living Canons’ in Hollywood, a Canon meaning an individual with a truly unique career, not just professionally but ichnographically as well, someone who becomes a cultural object, good or bad. I think Tom Cruise is one of them–someone tell me who else represents all of the male ambiguity plus the paradox of Macho-mania and misogyny but still-attractiveness and main-stream accessibility that he represents. Even in his self-alienation and with all of the scientology that has turned him even further into an enigma, he still holds one of the most iconic cultural positions in the U.S. He doesn√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢t even own himself yet still does in a way. So my point is, a few weeks ago when he launched a website devoted to HIMSELF and the last 25 years of his career, I equated that to Meryl Streep signing on to do Mamma Mia the movie. Both as critical gestures, and ones made by individuals (Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep respectively) who wanted to turn their career decisions into art pieces. And they did, and those two events, not the first time or way people have done this by any means, only worked and became art pieces simply because these two are who they are, and therefore are the only ones who could do these two things and have them mean what they mean. Who else like Cruise could have created a website devoted to himself, sure in conjunction with the anniversary of the film that made him famous, and have it seen and feel as harmless yet as intriguing as Cruises?
    For Meryl, I think the famous Annie Lebowitz photograph of her pulling her face with that white Marcel Marcel mask that was on the cover of Rolling Stone some years ago says it all, “I am all of these things, I am what I am, I am Meryl Streep, a void, a clown but also a vessel who can take any form and who re-establishes the hierarchy of art with all that I choose to do.’
    For Cruise I think making himself a website says, ‘I am a cultural icon, owned by culture, but still with a heartbeat, I am a living man but also am myself a mask for the public. I embody desire but also all of the fears of men, and women, and all of these fears and triumphs are instilled in the roles that I choose, and how I with my loaded meanings, react and look in those roles. I and my ambiguous sexual representation and how that has been stretched and flipped across the course of my career, and has take form and shape in all of the different and often contradictory roles that I play. I am myself a play.
    And the variety and confusion exists through: the ultimate heterosexual roles, (Risky Business, Cocktail, Top Gun, Days of Thunder, etc. the more curious possibly closeted characters, Jerry Maguire, Interview with a Vampire, Magnolia. etc. and the blatant action stars who again could border on harboring impotence, Mission Impossible√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s Ethan Hunt, in Mi:I 2 and 3.”
    So, Tom Cruise, by acknowledging himself, makes a statement about his own lack of ownership on his own life. His self-created self-referential mirror of a mirror website turns the system of access on its head, it happens in a non-way, in an a-aggressive way, an a-political way, like art. It becomes so loaded and multidimensional as a gesture, that without looking at how the site operates, what it looks like, how it is designed etc. The fact that it was made becomes the importance of it.
    The same goes for Mama Mia! I don√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢t think its about what it feels like, how it looks, those are all embedded into its world, and the √ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√Ö‚Äúoh√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√Ǭ¶my..god√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√Ǭù yes stupid is part of its inherent language, and like a painting, one can do nothing but seek to understand the √ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√ã≈ìit√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢ inside of it. If the film is true to the show, it is going to feel the exact same way, as vapid, as light, as ‘FUN!√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢ Somewhat pointless and shallow. But I don√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢t think that√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s the point. If it was then Jasper Johns flag would feel American and Patriotic and its not. Then you would pee in Duchamps Fountain. Then you would look at John Water√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s Female Troubles and say, this looks cheep! I say, √ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√ã≈ìDuhhh!√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢ The point is the art of it comes from another source. Look beyond the literalness. The art of it, the importance comes in the casting, the other choices.

  • dangovich

    Cavayero, where’s the Crib Notes to that post?

  • Michael Cavayero

    I think thats a pretty dense version. but ask Wells for that. he’s good at picking out the meat.

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    I don’t think people are expecting anything more than “fun” from the ABBA musical. Honestly, Jeff, I think you could pass on reviewing this one completely and we would all understand. Unless you can find enough to really tear into it like your SATC review, which was a riot.

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