Monday, December 03, 2012

Your Neighborhood Librarian Can Hear a Bell Ring

I don't have cable, and I mostly don't miss it. I would like to watch the E! Oscars pregame show, yes granted, and I would probably waste a lot of time watching marathons on SyFy if I had it, but mostly I am ok with my collection of James Bond / Veronica Mars DVDs and Sports Night on Netflix.

Last Sunday night, however, was another matter ENTIRELY. That night, the hotly anticipated Lifetime original movie Liz and Dick was to air. I had been hearing about it for MONTHS. The gossips had news from the set that Lindsay Lohan could barely function. The trailer was so snipped-up you just knew they never got an entire coherent line out of her. And you know how Google sometimes tells it like it is? Like how if you're researching the history of lawn-ornament Blessed Virgin Mary statues and you google "antique yard Madonna" and Google's top result is a review excoriating Madonna's 2012 Super Bowl halftime performance I AM NOT LYING TRY IT YOURSELF - oops, there's another sentence that got away from me...

I mean... right? WRONG.
Umm anyway. You google "Liz & Dick parody" and it's all reviews of the actual movie. Plus this montage of Lohan breathing and touching her head. She's like taxidermy, really.

So right, since I don't have cable, I was reduced to watching Liz&Dick on Twitter. And if you don't think that is a thing you can do, look up the hashtag and scroll back. Every line, every costume - every hat! and even most of the backdrops were critiqued. At one point there was a robust rally to nominate the Liz&Dick green screen for an Oscar. It was amusing, mesmerizing... and it eventually made me sick. It's one thing to watch something that you yourself think is TERRRRRIBLE. It's another thing to witness an entire nation throwing up their arms in captivated horror.

After about 45 minutes, I closed Twitter, fired up the actual TV, and put on Mamma Mia!


I have seen Mamma Mia! twice. The first time I watched it, I was appalled. The beautiful setting jarred against the dumbness of the movie until I kind of just couldn't compute. After it was over, I immediately played it again with the sound off just to watch the art direction. More on that later.

But last night, it was the only thing that would wash the cynicism of Liz&Dick, and the cynicism of the reactions to Liz&Dick, out of my mind. I don't know if you've ever seen it, but given that the goddamn musical has been on Broadway since 1999, and the movie has grossed about $610 million worldwide (I'm guessing it gets a lot of play in Italy, for some reason), some of y'all have to have bought tickets to this stinker and therefore don't need me to break it down for you.

But if you haven't.

Be warned. There is so much shrieking.

SUMMARY 1: There is to be a wedding on a beautiful yet rugged Greek island. Amanda Seyfried, aka Veronica Mars's dead best friend Lilly Kane, welcomes her two besties and - after a significant amount of shrieking - sings a song with them about finding her mom's diary from the year she was conceived. Seems mom did herself some fucking back then, and Amanda Seyfried's father could be any of three guys. Not more than one of them. That only happens in animals that give birth to litters. Didn't quite catch the name of those besties but don't worry, we never hear from them again.

Meryl, who is mother of the bride, welcomes her besties - Christine Baranski, who is playing rich divorcee, and Mrs. Weasley, who is playing bawdy little tomboy. There's more shrieking, after which we learn that Meryl runs an inn on the island and the inn doesn't make a lot of cash, so she sings Money Money Money while fantasizing about doing a Kate Winslet on some guy's yacht.

FUN FACT #1: The printed textiles hanging on the laundry lines in Meryl's courtyard and piled in vast swathes on the imaginary yacht are by Josef Frank, and cost upwards of two hundred bucks a meter.

FRIGHTENING OBSERVATION #1: I want that to be a weave on Meryl, because if she grew her hair out that long just to fry it up, that is a lot of effort for no reason.

BACK TO OUR SUMMARY: Dead Lilly has invited Meryl's three boyfriends from twenty years ago to her wedding. They arrive.

REALITY NOTE: If my children did this to me... okay well first of all Meryl's exes are 1) an architect 2) a finance dude and 3) an author of adventure travel books. The three boys I might have dated twenty years ago are now probably... 1) no idea, but I could probably tell them which bar to find him at 2) a motorcycle mechanic and 3) actually, an author of adventure travel books. Huh. But anyway second of all, I would die of humiliation.

MORE SUMMARY: Meryl spies the three dudes - played by Skarsgard père;  Remington Pierce Brosnan-Steele, and everybody's favorite Mr. Darcy, Colin Firth. She flashes on them in circa 1979 wigs - Firth as a punk is particularly WRONNG.

She embarks upon a LOT of unnerving shenanigans trying to sneak peeks at them in their boudoir, at one point rolling back and forth on the roof putting her fingers in her mouth and tiptoeing her other hand toward a trapdoor. GROSS. What do you think is happening in there Meryl?? Besides Colin Firth with a hose in his mouth blowing a mattress (foreshadowing!). Get your mind out of the gutter.

FRIGHTENING OBSERVATION #2: Bootstrap Bill looks just like John McEnroe for a lot of this movie.

We are meant to understand that it is Brosnan who is Meryl's Most Truest-ish Love. Meryl has a convincing hysterical crying fit during which she actually looks like a person in her forties having a crying fit - and Meryl, who when she does comedy is all cawing and cackling, full-body shrugs and voluminous eyerolls, STILL completely inhabits this trite, somewhat flaky ex-free-spirit character, I mean even when she's just fooling around she still can fucking ACT - and then the women sing Chiquitita and then Dancing Queen.

WHERE I REALIZE MAYBE THIS IS MY MOVIE AFTER ALL: This Dancing Queen scene, which eventually includes the entire female population of the island skipping down to the pier and doing a rudimentary line dance, would make a dead person smile.

After this, I lose the plot a little. Amanda Seyfried gets to know the men? There's a bachelor party with boys dancing in swim fins? A bachelorette party during which Meryl, Christine Baranski, and Mrs. Weasley put on immense bellbottoms and platform shoes and sing a song?

Because at some point in this part of the movie, Meryl and Remington Steele sing a song. They sing "S.O.S." And Brosnan's voice shocks me into near-catatonia every time I hear it. Oh. He sings like someone is jumping up and down on his lungs. It is... the most effortful sound I have ever heard in my life. I know that the singing is looped and that onscreen he is just lipsynching, but I can't look at him with that sound coming out of the speakers and not expect his every blood vessel from about the nipples up to burst. He makes Streep sound like Patti Lu-fucking-Pone.

Did I mention Domenic Cooper as Amanda Seyfried's fiance? He shows up without a shirt pretty frequently. That's his contribution.

Does the wedding go off as planned? No. Is there a happy ending? Yes. More shrieking? Oh certainly. Do we get to see enough Greek island majesty to make me rethink our vacations for the next five years? SHIT YEAH.

FUN FACT #I LOST TRACK: Colin Firth gay shirtless kiss.

Stick it out for the credits, during which the men, Meryl and her girls, and Dead Lilly camp around wearing Freddie Mercury's entire stage wardrobe and sing "Waterloo". The lyrics to that song were one of the readings at my brother's wedding. Nobody was really sure what to make of that.

1. Meryl can sing. Well. She "can" "sing," in the way that people in show business can often sing. That is, she sings better than Gwyneth and god knows better than Zellweger, but not as well as Ann. Anne? Too lazy to look it up. She's shown us this before, in the Carrie Fisher movie and in Prairie Home Companion.

2. Amanda Seyfried can sing. She sings "Thank you for the music" over the end credits, and... well, it's An Interpretation. That song may start kind of intimate, but in the end it is a belter, and Amanda Seyfried's voice is so delicate and little that they had to accompany her with like a harpsichord. There is no belting. Agnetha she is not. But she is apparently Cosette in Les Mis. She'll do great.

3. Mrs. Weasley can't really sing. But she is cute with short hair, and she is supposed to be the one who is a little braying anyway. And of course Julie Walters can be relied upon to be adorable in every circumstance.

4. JESUS Christine Baranski is phenomenal. They give her a whole song - "Does Your Mother Know?" that she gets to perform with a batch of hot boy dancers, which is where Christine Baranski belongs at all times. She is just so precise - you can only imagine how much she had to flail it up so as not to make Streep look like a ragdoll. Not only that - she has that old-time Juilliard from-the diaphragm haughty-ass whole-body voice that makes you want to slap on your Norma Desmond turban and FLOUNCE! AROUND! the HOUSE! Peel me a grape!

I love this woman so much I might have to dredge up old episodes of Cybill on YouTube to get a Baranski fix, cause god knows I am not up for watching Julianna Margulies mope around her law firm, the presence of Josh Charles notwithstanding.

Christine Baranski - Does Your Mother Know from Celebrity X-Factor on Vimeo.

5. Brosnan. NO. OW. I feel like I am cleansing some unpleasant part of my body every time I replay his singing scenes.

6. Colin Firth can play guitar. OF COURSE HE CAN. Serenade me, Mr. Darcy!

7. Does Bootstrap Bill sing? He is there in several singing scenes, but I think he is just sort of hollering along. That's ok. Bootstrap Bill has done his duty - he spawned Erik the Viking.

Meryl doing comedy is generally painful. That raucous shit gets old real fast, and makes you want to watch Meryl doing comedy in which she is not the silly one. So you'll want to watch The Devil Wears Prada, another movie that is not worth the paper it's written on, made great by performances by the likes of Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci, and Meryl.

For a transcendant Christine Baranski scene, you'll find The Birdcage on DVD somewhere. Robin Williams is not as grating as usual, Nathan Lane turns in the performance that will never allow you to accept that he is a straight man again, Dianne Wiest and Gene Hackman are super amusing, but Baranski is just such a pro as the ovum donor.

Ahh, and you want to know why you love Julie Walters? And you want to see more of her character in this movie? Go back to 1985 and watch Educating Rita, in which she charms the whiskers off of Michael Caine. Not that that's particularly hard.

Lastly - you watch this movie and I guarantee it's going to make you want to watch Priscilla. The infamous ABBA show that is alluded to throughout that movie shows up at the very end, and Hugo Weaving (Elrond you RASCAL!) and oh the guy from Memento (Guy Pearce) do a MARVELOUS job with "Mamma Mia."

And now you're going to be wandering around work and a stray line, "That's the name of the game!" or "Honey honey, how you thrill me," will just bubble up to the surface and you'll find yourself singing. And if you're lucky like me, or if you work in a drag bar, someone will chime in with the "Uh huh"s.

This is Your Neighborhood Librarian. Consuming pop culture. Exhuming that pair of ruffled bellbottoms I bought in Spain. And not ashamed of it.