Most of the days at our parents’ Breton cottage ended up with a lot of red wine and some DVDs. Given that the restaurants that didn’t close were a car journey away and only served meat with meat, it was a good solution to the problem of everyone enjoying their evening.
This also meant K. and I were able to catch up on our television watching (Area Man etc.) The non-pastiche aspect of Flight Of The Conchords had entirely passed me by, as YouTube only specializes in the music videos (which, on their own, are a very tiny bit rubbish.) Watching full episodes of the hapless New Zealanders made everything click into place: the videos were meant to be a tiny bit rubbish, because Jermaine has no social skills, and Bret acts like he’s always just been hit on the head and is about to pitch forwards onto his face.
We also saw Michael McIntyre, who I’d heard before in small amounts—his voice in full flow is instantly recognisable—but obviously had never seen. He had a flow and energy that I’ve seen in Peter Kay, although there was also a slightly snider harshness there. It made for less syrupy comedy, but also a less likable man. My shared northern roots would always mean I would side with Kay’s culture, though, and with that in mind it was clear that McIntyre was something I’ve not seen since the best of Eddie Izzard.
The plan for each evening also meant that, when both of our sets of parents were around, we did have to spend one evening watching Mamma Mia! Now, I’m all for lowbrow culture. I’m all for middlebrow culture if it’s done well. And I’d been primed by Joe Cornish’s adamant declarations that you would just “have to surrender yourself to it.” So when I sat down, although I was rather knackered, I decided I’d give it an even chance.
Four songs in, each of them either mediocre or actually rather bad, I realized that it was time to get a book and try and tune it out. When the main parts in an on-screen musical are played by people who would never, never have been cast for the stage equivalent—their vocal style being either too strained (Bronhom), faked (Julie Walters) or just plain bad (Stellan Skarsgård)—then it’s no longer clear why you’d listen with the volume up. And when the acting, direction, scripting, choreography and camera work range from workmanlike to unwatchable, then there’s not a great deal left of a film to watch.
It’s testament to the original songs that Mamma Mia! is—barely—watchable. They provide structure, even when, with the likes of Does Your Mother Know?, they themselves are stretched to fit over the equally thin plot. But if the songs are so good, then it’s probably best just to buy Abba Gold and listen to that. And, if you must, get a karaoke machine to go along with it. Result? Instant Mamma Mia!, only without the rubbish bits.