12 August 2008

Mamma Mia!

"It would be charity to call the plot contrived."

Uh huh. It's almost a poor imitation of a Shakespearian comedy. And a total loss if not for all its beautiful people.

Also, if not for mother-in-law's monstrous large DP and fourth-act seat dancing, plus sister-in-law's extra butter on her low-calorie "small." But that doesn't have anything to do with the movie. Except to say that if you plan on seeing it, please take fun people.

So Mamma Mia! does not offer a stellar plot. Nor stellar singing. And I mean "not stellar" generously. But my main problem with the movie is simply this: every character lives for self and his or her fleshly pleasures without any hint of self-control or order at any moment, and they are all rewarded for it.

I don't want to complain that the movie fails as art (as Ebert deftly noted, it does not aim to be good in that way). And I don't actually want to complain that the movie heralds debauchery, though it does. Instead, the movie unearthed in me some sadness. Sadness that many viewers might secretly (or not so secretly) long for their lives to have such freedom as these characters seem to have.

Maybe some of us wish our twenties were full of one-night stands, or wish that our moms were cool enough to headline our drunken bachelorette parties, or wish for such steamy moments on the beach with beautiful lovers, or wish that we could become rich off three divorces and then fill our lives with plastic surgery and younger men. I wish it went without saying that such a life would be wasted. Vanity.

But the real temptation of the movie is to wish for the philosophical and relative freedom in which these characters seem to dwell. Freedom to determine your own identity. Freedom to explore all that life has to offer. Freedom to drink yourself sick. Freedom to sleep with whomever you wish. Freedom to be cool in the eyes of others. Freedom to live in loyal relationship that holds the truth of self-loyalty rather than God-vows at its core. Freedom to prize family over everything else. Freedom to long for the unattainable and actually get it one day. Freedom to write your own story.

It's not the objects of those prepositions that are important: it's the noun. The movie does not claim that drunkenness or promiscuity are necessarily good but that the freedom to choose those if you wish is. That at any cost, one should have personal freedom to choose for oneself what she deems best.

On our own, we will express such freedom only for temporary hedonism because we cannot possibly see the virtue of present agony for later joy. Oddly, that does seem the unapologetic moral of the movie. The characters themselves would not balk at admitting it. Why not get pleasure now? Why not rule the self?

The fact that we weren't made to do so is sufficient reason for me. But the eventual outworkings of it are compelling as well. The self is too short-sighted to get even the best pleasure now. If you're smart enough or powerful enough, you could acquire for yourself the best pleasure you can see now. But there's a world unknown beyond it. It's impractical to depend on the self for the highest pleasure.

Even the movie shows us this. Donna has suffered these twenty years because she didn't have the self-discipline when she was young to actually work at relationship. She has made it fine and worked hard and raised a lovely daughter, but she has suffered loneliness and fatigue and, ironically, loss of pleasure. All this, at least in part, because she did not work at love but expected it to land in her lap. She chunked the "agony" (as it were) of living in community because she preferred rule of the self unto immediate pleasure insofar as she could see it.

In the postmodern way, she eventually gets her pleasure . . . the man after whom she has secretly pined all these years. That's hardly a spoiler: it's a romantic comedy, after all. But will it last? She will have to set aside herself to do so. She will have to prefer his good over her own, and he hers. Methinks there is a tragedy to follow.


media boy said...

this is one of the only plays i've ever seen, it was great... i heard about ol' Pierce takes a stab at singing too, eeesh

Arthur Jackson said...

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