By Ted Faraone
Rated: PG-13 for some sex-related comments.
Release Date: 2008-07-18
Starring: Catherine Johnson
Meryl Streep gives a bravura performance as Donna, the innkeeper of “Mamma Mia!,” a faithful screen adaptation of the ABBA-based musical of the same name that has played on stages worldwide for the past several years. In addition to acting, she excels at physical comedy, dance, and singing. The same is true of the entire cast. “Mama Mia!” may well become the feelgood movie of Summer 2008. Streep is well matched by Christine Baranski (Tanya) and Julie Waters (Rosie), as erstwhile members of an all-girl pop trio.
The soundtrack cannot be beat. The ABBA tunes, although thoroughly rooted in the 1970s, are excellent music and not the easiest for singers. “Dancing Queen” has a three octave range. As with the play, the audience leaves the theater humming the tunes… just like the best musicals of yore.
In the transition from play to movie, helmer Phyllidia Lloyd (who directed stage productions in London and New York) took advantage of the scope afforded by film to expand on the choreography using expressionistic imagination sequences to build on some of the production numbers. Writer Catherine Johnson missed not a beat in adapting her script for the big screen.
The plot is basically an excuse to string together ABBA’s best tunes in a movie. Twenty-year-old Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), about to marry, invites to her wedding the three men her mother’s (Streep as Donna) diary indicates could be her dad. Her mother is unsure. She also doesn’t know about the invitations. It is a tribute to the filmmakers that no one questions why DNA testing is not at issue. “Mama Mia!” simply beguiles the audience into total suspension of disbelief.
The three, Pierce Brosnan as architect Sam Carmichael, Colin Firth as prosperous banker Harry Bright, and Bill, a travel writer played by Stellan Skarsgård, make an unlikely Three Stooges. Firth’s uptight banker is a wonderful counterpoint to Skarsgård’s loosey-goosey world traveler, while Brosnan wonderfully projects a mixture of ego, hope, and humility tempered by experience.
The pic is long on sight gags – from Streep’s phallic cordless drill to a pair of tattoos on Skarsgård’s tush. The latter may be the only objection brought by overly sensitive parents to this PG-13 rated opus. In a nod to multiculturalism, minority players get some featured screen time. “Mamma Mia!” needs no excuse to be a family outing.