The tonal shifts in Mamma Mia are unsettling. The range of acting styles, from mugging through to camp are far broader than any film I have seen in years. The cinematography only occasionally lifts its head above competent and Meryl Streep should never, ever be allowed to wear dungarees again. But the soundtrack is terrific (even when being sung poorly by Pierce Brosnan) and the whole cast and crew seem to have such confidence in the quality of the overall product that it steamrollers you in its tracks. Mamma Mia is a terrifically entertaining two hours (even when it entertains for the wrong reasons: DUNGAREES STREEP), which is about 80% due to the songs.

Looking at this summers blockbuster fayre I think I have noticed a new trend. Namely the blockbuster aimed at middle aged women. Sex In The City and Mamma Mia seem squarely aimed at the 30+ female set, and unapologetically so. This is interesting because post-Jaws – this is an audience who have been generally ignored. And yet in the golden age of Hollywood, this was the largest cinema-going audience. You don’t crank out the Sound Of Music, or even Gone With The Wind for the blokes. But women brought their dates, and it was seen as a reliable piece of luxury in their lives.

Television supposedly destroyed this, and Hollywood decided to concentrate on teenage boys, who also would revisit films if they liked them. Hence the big blockbuster summer movies, tentpole movies we have become inured to. It is interesting that this years crop of summer movies have been both the most formally experimental and thematically similar. It is an upshot of the way the Hollywood hive mind works that five years after superhero films really started to take off, we have had five this summer. And yet they have all set about their task in a different way (from trad Hulk Smash to halfassed deconstruction in Hancock). None of which have been as anywhere near as risky as Mamma Mia, and Sex In The City.

Neither of these films are actually risky from a profit point of view. They are both realtively cheap to make after all (in Mamma Mia’s case, promising the cast six weeks on a Greek island did most of the work). But they both promised potentially huge profits, or egg on the face. Sex In The City repaid massive dividends, and Mamma Mia will be the slow grower of the summer, and will sell a million DVD’s. But they are both bold in their out and out marketing to a female audience. What is most interesting about Mamma Mia is that in doing so it has invented a strange kind of joyous amateurism, a gang feeling between the cast and audience. One which is not strictly apparent in the stage version (which is silly but earnest).

Mamma Mia reminded me less of the stage musical, or other screen musicals, and more of a stupid Will Ferrell comedy like say Anchorman. The tone is of knowing silliness all the way, the jokes are tongue-in-cheek, the ridiculous plot is lampooned and Julie Walters flaps and gawks and tries to out ham everyone else. No-one is taking anything seriously here, and when you finally get this (and it takes about fifteen minutes and a couple of songs) you can sit back and enjoy the silliness. Its a gang show, a sketch comedy with Legs & Co rocking up every ten minutes to dance to some terrific music. It is almost musical hall in its construction, lacking the gravitas of a Hollywood Musical, which makes sense when you think of its British pedigree. Indeed the plot and ending is very British, being a film about a successful single Mum, a bit anti-marriage and one of the protagonists coming out too!

(It also made me cry a little bit, but then the double sucker punch of Slipping Through My Fingers and The Winner Takes It All come as such an emotional sucker punch that you are barely ready for it).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgw0oc-ZxBM&feature=related

So what now for this trend? Are musicals back? Maybe. Will romantic comedies get sillier, raunchier and more musical? Possibly. Will Hollywood being paying more attention to the female audience – almost certainly. Which means some more interesting, entertaining, counter-programmed summer movies.

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