Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard
If you enjoy the music of ABBA, and I mean enjoy the music a lot, then "Mamma Mia" is a film you will undoubtedly enjoy.
Based upon the Broadway musical of the same name, "Mamma Mia" is a nostalgic, campy and perky musical filled with nearly two dozen ABBA songs performed by the film's actual cast (none of whom are known for their musical gifts, some justifiably so).
The storyline is simple and hardly the point of "Mamma Mia." Sophie (Amanda Seyfried, "Big Love") is set to marry Sky (Dominic Cooper,"The History Boys"). She lives on a picturesque Greek island with her single mother, Donna (Meryl Streep). She knows nothing about her father until she one day reads pages from her mother's diary and discovers there are three men who may be her father, Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and Harry (Colin Firth). She invites all three to her pending nuptials and, a bit to her surprise, all three show up for the occasion.
That's it. That's the story. Surround that story with two dozen ABBA songs sung largely by the above cast and a couple supporting players and you get "Mamma Mia."
If you abhor the music of ABBA, then there's absolutely no reason for you to spend your time on "Mamma Mia," unless you simply have to see every Meryl Streep film (I do!) and/or that of any other member of the cast.
Streep is, in fact, the highlight of "Mamma Mia." In career in which she has conquered accents galore and tackled everything from hardcore human drama to a Roseanne Arnold comedy, Streep is an energetic and campy delight as Donna. Streep's voice brought to mind that of Johnny Depp's in "Sweeney Todd," not because she sounded like Depp but because, like Depp, she doesn't necessarily have the best singing voice but absolutely knows how to bring it to life. Long recognized as one of Hollywood's most intelligent and disciplined actresses, there's something almost giddily joyful about watching "Streep" belt out show tunes, wear overalls, do the splits and never stop smiling.
In a career that has spanned across nearly every genre of the cinematic landscape, this is a Streep you've never seen and she pulls it off beautifully.
Seyfried, as well, has a solid singing voice and strong enough personality to hold her own with Streep and, perhaps owing to her regular role on the offbeat "Big Love," she seems to get the quirkiness of it all.
While Streep and Seyfried glow, the potential fathers are offer a definite drop in musical talent and Brosnan, in particular, has about as much chemistry with Streep as did the aforementioned Roseanne Arnold. While his energy is perfectly fine, there's nary a spark between the two despite the script's assertion that Donna still carries a torch for him.
Colin Firth fares a tad better, though he's also called upon to do much less. Skarsgard, of the three men, fares the best as his appearance in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films must've taught him how to let go and be willy to just look downright silly.
Christine Baranski, who seems to always show up in this type of film, delights in a rather bawdy version of "Does Your Mother Know?" while Julie Walters rips through "Take a Chance on Me."
The Broadway musical of "Mamma Mia" has been packing them in for years, and it's difficult to say what impact it would have had to have hired, perhaps, unknown actors who could be stronger singers in the male roles. In a film that focuses, however, on the music it's noticeably disappointing when one of the songs doesn't work.
Director Phyllida Lloyd, a British theatrical director, stages the film simply and avoids gimmicky cinematography in trusting the inherent beauty of the Greek islands.
One could easily question the wisdom of opening such a film on the same weekend as "The Dark Knight," a film guaranteed to top the box-office. Yet, "Mamma Mia" is clearly aimed at a different crowd and should attract the diehard ABBA fans, middle-aged romantics and others who wish to avoid the inevitable "The Dark Knight" crowds.
On very few weekends are the choices for moviegoing so clearly black and white, but in this case "Mamma Mia" is clearly the choice for those who prefer their cinema upbeat while "The Dark Knight" is far more dark and intense.
The award magnet Streep is practically guaranteed a comedy/musical Golden Globe nomination for her performance here, a performance that displays previously unknown gifts and reminds us all why she's this generation's most critically recognized actress.
Unless you absolutely hate the music of "ABBA," it's practically impossible to hate "Mamma Mia," a joyous and vibrant musical filled with toe-tapping numbers, smiles galore and surprisingly strong performances from Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried.
Take a chance and catch "Mamma Mia" on the big screen. It won't be the same experience on DVD!
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic