When a young boy’s father dies, he is sent to stay with his only living relative, Auntie Mame. She throws elaborate parties, plays host to eccentric friends and believes life should be “lived.” When the Depression hits, Mame’s spirit is tested while trying to raise a young boy. The film follows Mame’s fall and eventual rise over several decades as the relationship with her nephew changes and matures.
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“I promise you I won’t use one teeny weeny ‘son of a bitch’ tonight, okay?”
Mame is the film version of the hit Broadway musical by Jerry Herman and stars Lucille Ball as Auntie Mame, a full-of-life, rule-defying woman. She’s also the aunt of young Patrick, who arrives in the middle of one of her crazy parties. Donning a bright red outfit, she dances around, guzzles scotch and fails to notice a strange child has walked into her life. But once she focuses her gaze on her young nephew, it is love at first sight, with the film following their fiercely loyal and complicated bond throughout the Depression, her marriage, loss and his adolescence.
Patrick comes from a strict Christian upbringing where rules are followed. Mame rips down the rigid rules, replacing them with a liberal schooling “where there are no books,” and encourages him to indulge in his child-like wonder. The kid loves it. But she loses him and all her belongings to the Depression, and is forced to become clerk at a shoe store. Even then, Mame refuses
At the moment when he needed me,
It’s only when she realizes that she can’t change who she is and Patrick discovers he can’t be someone else, do they find their way back to each other. And off he sends his own son to experience Mame’s world (in Siberia, no less), where she promises to show him “things you never knew existed.”
Watching this film it is wholly apparent that Lucille Ball’s singing skills are lacking, but she makes up for that in her bright bursts of comedy and quiet moments of emotion. She gives weight to the love she has for young Patrick, which is the true backbone of the story. Her comedic timing shines alongside the equally talented Beatrice Arthur, who plays her boozy, acid-tongued best friend Vera Charles (a role she reprised from the Broadway play). These moments show that despite her cutting words and physical blunders, Mame is fiercely loving and loyal toward those she loves.
From the moment the audience is ushered into Mame’s wild party in full swing, the sets become quite a presence. The large house, the winding staircase (perfect for sliding down the banister), the colours and decadence all lend itself to the joy Mame indulges in. Later on, when she suffers a huge financial blow, the rooms that were brimming with glamour and glitter are bare; empty spaces with the minimal of furniture. But when her fortune changes, so do the sets. Lush gardens, fountains, ballrooms and mountains serve as backdrop in the musical number written just for the movie, Loving You, celebrating Mame’s marriage, world travels and eventual loss.
The costumes are gorgeously put together in bold, bright colours for Mame, who always stands out, especially in a crowd. When Mame is at the top of her game, she wears figure-hugging dresses in red, white, or purple. During the Depression, she still dresses like a million bucks, but is relegated to shades of beige and grey.
Since it is a musical, the songs do serve a purpose, pushing the story forward and reflecting the changing emotions of the characters. Lucille Ball’s singing fails to raise the songs to a memorable level, but she does shine in the number she shares with Beatrice Arthur, Bosom Buddies, mainly because both women display an understanding of the complicated relationship between women; the friendship and competition that exists simultaneously with best friends. Also, it’s darn hilarious. The most elaborate song, Mame, boasts a huge cast of dancers, horses and choreography in a large field which gives tribute to the main character. Visually beautiful and quite catchy, the song is fun to watch and reminds the audience they are indeed watching a large-scale musical.
Mame is a fun glimpse into the world of a jet-setting, hard-partying woman who is forced to question her values and ideals through the presence of a child she never prepared herself to raise.