Thursday, December 18, 2008

Against type casting

When I was studying and designing programming languages in the 1980s, the question of type casting (usually pointers) was a big issue. In some languages it was forbidden, in some languages it was unnecessary because it was automatic. However, type casting is a necessary evil in “C”, something I learned during my 15 years as a “C” language programmer and software entrepreneur.

Last night, we rented the new DVD of Mamma Mia!, the musical based on the music of Swedish pop phenom Abba. We didn’t get to see it when it came out, but noted it as a fun choice for later. As it turns out, I saw it on the long flight home last month, and then liked it so much to go to Blockbuster Wednesday (first time in more than a year) and pay full price to rent it. This was the day after the DVD’s record first day sales.

The star of the show was Meryl Streep, whose acting career was just getting started when I served as a college movie critic 30 years ago. While Streep was a talented actress — really the star of her generation — after a while I got tired of her string of earnest portrayals in “serious” cinematic releases.

In Mamma Mia, she’s cast against her longtime type. The role of Donna Sheridan is one of the most challenging ever: Streep must be simultaneously tough, vulnerable and funny, and (as with her earlier successes) Streep is so good that she makes it looks easy. Streep is luminous as she’s clearly having a great time, particularly on the title track: best of all, she can sing.

Of the remaining cast, Amanda Seyfried is fetching as Donna’s daughter Sophie, and has an even better voice than Streep. Colin Firth is also a surprisingly good singer, which is more than can be said for Pierce Brosnan.

Mamma Mia (the musical play) opened in London in 1999. My wife and I saw it there in 2001, and recommended it to all our friends. (One clear anachronism is that the play/movie are set in the present, but if you do the math the story clearly takes place in the late 80s or early 90s.)

The movie is a lot easier to follow than the play: the story, characters and plot twists are complex, and the film version makes these clearer. While the musical numbers were often contrived on stage, the campy, over-the-top enthusiasm of the movie helped in suspending disbelief. The location shooting in Greece is stunning, and I loved the cutaways to the chorus as they chime in for the twists and turns of Sophie’s wedding — as well as two big dance number set on a dock.

When I saw the movie last month, Streep seemed a shoe-in for a Golden Globe as best actress in a musical or comedy. (Unlike the Oscars®, the Golden Globes split the best acting awards between comedy and drama). Sure enough, Streep won a Golden Globe nomination last week, as did the movie. We’ll know the results next month.

The movie won’t win an Oscar, but Streep might. Streep has 14 Oscar nominations thus far — the most acting nominations in history. Like the #2 all-time nominee, Kate Hepburn, all of herwins are for dramatic roles. But — like Hepburn in Philadelphia Story — Streep certainly has earned it for Mamma Mia!

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