I wanted to love this so much so, as such, I went in with the utmost fears of being grossly disappointed. I’d seen the marketing clip of Meryl Streep singing “Winner Takes it All” and it just took my breath away, it was the kind of emotion I never really associated with the musical which, in all it’s Greasey popularity, I had no option but to loathe from the off. I don’t see the reasoning behind spending £20 and upwards to see these jukebox shows in the theatre, and though I’ve certainly done my share of standing and clapping etc to a show that moved me that way (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), I hate when I go to a show and feel like I’m being compelled to get involved. I don’t like to share that admittedly grumpy side of myself lol but, hey, it serves as the perfect setup to my review.
For 20 minutes or so (aside from the gorgeously spinetingling “I Have a Dream” opener), it wobbles something disastrous. There’s a lot of exposition in setting up the basic story (girl is getting married, doesn’t know who her father is, invites the three most likely candidates without her mother’s knowledge – but you probably knew that better than me) around the song “Honey, Honey”. But then Meryl Streep finally pokes her head in on the scene. And the movie literally takes off when she opens her mouth to sing “Money Money Money”.
Now I’ve never denied that Streep is one of the best actresses ever to grace the screen. But she never really did anything that struck me beyond the appreciative acknowledgement of her talent like this did. It was there in that short “Winner Takes it All” clip. But taken as the full 2 hour performance – it’s overwhelming. She’s so alive, so full of joy, and the camera loves her. It gets right up in her face in places but at times just sits back, like us, in awe of such a fantastic woman being in the moment. If I called Evening “so vaginal it’s stifling” (checks: yep, sorry, that was me, lol), then this movie is so much so that it’s joyous. When even my least favourite ABBA song, “Dancing Queen”, can move me to wish more than ever I could join those girls dancing and leaping in the water, so much so I almost applauded out loud in the very British silence of the multiplex, lol … you know we have a winner. It just killed me how beautiful all the female interactions were in this movie, how upfront and unashamedly they were placed on the screen, all manner of girls and women, mothers and daughters – never done in this retributional way so many feminist tracts come; just as a statement of people with as much right to be and love and live as anybody else, no matter what their age, sex or level of conventional beauty. Did I mention that all this is glorious?
But, oh, there are men too. Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsard, Colin Firth: never mind the Meryl, Julie Walters and Christine Baranski, all of whom in opinion were perfect on the tunes … these guys are adorable when they sing. The guys’ songs seem mostly to come in those moments of character where they’re unveiling the side of themselves that is usually regarded as something that ought to be hidden. There’s a moment when Brosnan sings to Streep, I think it’s his first sung piece in fact, and it cuts back to her face in a picture of shock, the kind of shock that you get when a traditionally uptight male breaks down and cries and reveals an embarrassing secret or, hey, just plain talks … this is how screen musicals should be, this is how the songs should come in my opinion. It’s just wonderful. Colin Firth’s voice is like the lead singer of the Zombies or Belle & Sebastian: that endearing weakness, again the honesty and love that I love so much about this movie. There are lots of other guys in the movie too lol, very much there for the girls or guys who want them lol.
I didn’t expect this to be one of my “gush, gush, just get the initial reaction into words and publish!” reviews, lol, but the movie really did strike me that way, moreso than I even expected or hoped. I’m still buzzing when I remember the songs and the faces – I even emerged with a new favourite ABBA song, “Slipping Through My Fingers”, which I’d never heard in my life – it comes just after Sophie asks her mother to help her prepare for the wedding, something Streep takes to with heartrending glee. The song is about a young girl’s first day at school and the mother saying goodbye like losing her to the wide world, and we see Streep doing her daughter’s hair, butting a bandaid on her ankle and kissing a booboo better as she brushes her teeth, sitting in a chair doing her nails and talking, all in the present. If I go any further into why this scene crushed me so much I’ll be here for pages lol. All I’ll say is it’s the most beautiful standalone scene I’ve seen in too long and for it alone I could go back down to the multiplex and pay for another ticket right now, let alone all the other wonderful moments I haven’t even touched on.
When even the cheesy end credits stuff (where it really does threaten to become “menopausal karaoke night” as I wrote here lol) had me buzzin’ (and frankly wishing I was in a livelier audience) … again, you know a good thing when it’s there in front of you For me it’s really the first great movie of the year, and I’m happy shocked to find I’m still rooting for it to catch on enough to be an Oscars contender next year.