So, despite the fact that "Mamma Mia" was one of the few Meryl films I've actually seen, I found myself wanting to revisit it to do a fair comparison of the performances. I'm also gonna need to preface this bracket with the fact that generally speaking,
I FUCKING HATE MUSICALS. OH MY GOD. I HATE THEM SO MUCH. STOP. FUCKING. SINGING. JESUS CHRIST.
Maybe it's from my years of being a theatre nerd and the deep-seated rejection issues I formulated because I was never a good enough singer to be cast in one, or maybe it's because MOST MUSICALS ARE GARBAGE, IDK.
"Mamma Mia," however, is mostly tolerable to me because it's not a "real musical," it's all ABBA music, and nobody really hates ABBA (not even me).
So let's get this fucking over with.
Mamma Mia! (2008)
Dir: Phyllida Lloyd (The Iron Lady, Mamma Mia 2)
Wri: Catherine Johnson (original musical)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfriend, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard, Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski
Quickest recap ever:
- Amanda and her mother, Meryl, live on the most gorgeous island on the freaking planet, where they run the world's most adorable shabby chic hotel
- Amanda is about to get married to an obnoxiously good looking and almost always shirtless dude, but desperately wants her father to be there... so she reads her mother's old diaries (weird?) and discovers that there were THREE MEN Meryl was "involved with" the summer she was conceived... and she invites ALL THREE OF THEM TO THE WEDDING
- Normal wedding hijinks ensue... some light arguments, some delightful musical numbers, a few amusing romances for sub-plot.
- Eventually, Amanda decides that all three of these guys are so dashing and loving and supportive, she DOESN'T CARE who her real father is, she'd rather be 1/3 of each of them than have to choose.
- She also dramatically decides last minute NOT TO GET MARRIED, and to just travel the world with Hot Shirtless Guy
- PLOT TWIST turns out Pierce Brosnan has been in love with Meryl this WHOLE TIME FOR TWENTY YEARS and THEY DECIDE TO GET MARRIED INSTEAD
- Oh my god more singing
Anytime you think "huh, I wonder what's gonna happen next" DON'T WORRY, MAYBE THEY'LL SING ABOUT IT. Is a character looking off into the distance? PROBABLY GONNA SING ABOUT IT. I actually think my favorite part of musicals is how in all the two-person scenes where only one person is singing, the other one just has to stand there watching them sing SO AWKWARDLY hahahaha it's like how you panic when people sing Happy Birthday to you and you can't remember what to do with your hands lol.
Acting wise, I must give Meryl MAD PROPS for being LITERALLY SIXTY YEARS OLD while this was filmed and still being totally bangable. Like for real, she is spry and full of joie de vivre and just dancing all over this Greek island in those adorable overalls. She literally does the FUCKING SPLITS while jumping up and down on a mattress (during YOU GUESS IT a fucking musical number). She could've totally phoned in this performance, but she still manages to give it NUANCE and DEPTH and SUBSTANCE. She's never too much "struggling mother" or too much "mature woman just wanting romance again." She's a real fucking person. Who just happens to tromp around singing all the goddamn time.
THEN ON THE OTHER FUCKING HAND, WE HAVE THE MOST GOD AWFUL FUCKING MUSICAL EVER OH MY GOD I'M SORRY BUT I FUCKING HATE MUSICALS SO MUCH AND THIS ONE WAS UP THERE WITH THE WORST. IT WAS SO BAD. I HATED IT. I HATED IT SO MUCH.
Into the Woods (2014)
Dir: Rob Marshall (Chicago, Mary Poppins, Nine, Memoirs of a Geisha)
Wri: James Lapine (musical & screenplay)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, James Cordon, Johnny Depp, Chris Pine, and about 400 other famous people oh my god why did you all want to be in this fucking movie
Full disclosure: I had my hand on the fast forward button twenty minutes into this dumpster fire of a movie musical. I skipped ahead as much as humanly possible so I only had to watch the Meryl scenes, and even HERS were unbearable.
I actually like fairy tales. Anything involving mythology or folklore usually interests me. NOT THIS TIME AROUND.
To be fair, I don’t hate ALL musicals. I grew up listening to Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. Moulin Rouge is one of my favorite sentimental movies of all time. There are a handful of other ones who have snuck under the radar over the years.
But Into the Woods????????????? I’m sorry fam, I just don’t fucking get it. You couldn’t dance to this music. The average person wouldn’t listen to this music in their car. The music is harsh and discordant and rambles. It’s not pleasant. It goes against the grain of everything that is supposed to sound good or beautiful. I know I’m nothing but an uncultured rube when it comes to music, but I cannot for the life of me understand why the fuck so many people I went to theatre school with lose their shit for this musical. Throughout the entire 45 minutes of the movie that I probably watched, I couldn’t stop feeling the anxiety, distress, betrayal, and horror that countless parents across North America have felt for DECADES being forced to watch their half-talented high school children perform this unintelligible ear-garbage on basketball gym stages, nervously glancing at their watches wondering when this TWO HOUR LONG MUSICAL, and their agony, will be over.
As for Meryl’s performance, my GOD. Talk about phoning it in. Even her hair and make up were terrible. This was an all time low for her. There were glimmers of “concerned, overbearing mother” that she gave us in Mamma Mia when she was the Bad Witch, and the “condescending, self-obsessed bitch” vibes as the Hot Witch she gave us in Death Becomes Her. There was none of the nuance and depth she has given us before in terrible movies. I wouldn’t be surprised if a half-talented high school student has done a more convincing and less grating performance of this role on one of those basketball gym stages.
THE OBVIOUS WINNER IS MAMMA MIA.