Mamma Mia! Not That Bad, Actually
By Kristin Battestella
When I had the opportunity to see Mamma Mia! in theaters, I was a little reluctant to go. Despite being a big Bee Gees fan, I don’t care for Abba all that much, and I’m not into newer musical chick flicks. I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, I kind of liked Mamma Mia!.
As young Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) readies for her marriage to Sky (Dominic Cooper) on the Greek island of Skopelos, she confesses to her best friends Ali (Ashley Lilly) and Lisa (Rachel McDowall) that she’s invited her three prospective fathers to the wedding- unbeknownst to her mother Donna (Meryl Streep). Donna’s friends Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters) come for the festivities and help Donna relive her glory days when she discovers her previous lovers are close at hand. Who is Sophie’s Dad? Rogue Bill (Stellan Skarsgard), uptight Harry (Colin Firth), or divorcee Sam (Pierce Brosnan)?
Each major cast member gets a lead turn at the music. Tony winner Christine Baranski (Chicago, Cybill) and Julie Walters (Harry Potter) could steal the show with ‘Does Your Mother Know’ and ‘Take A chance on Me’, respectively, if it were not for Streep’s taking down the house with ‘The Winner Takes It All’. I knew the 14 time Oscar nominee (twice a winner with Kramer vs Kramer and Sophie’s Choice) could carry a tune, but I didn’t know she could sing that well. Everything the 59 year old actress has is in Donna, vocally and physically. Much was made of the impromptu split for the movie’s trailers, but Streep’s energy throughout the film’s big dance numbers makes me envious. If it weren’t for all her other star turns, I could say that this is a definitive and star making role. Streep will most likely get another nomination for Mamma Mia!; despite all her dramatic and even comedic achievement, this is the complete variety package.
Seyfried (Mean Girls, Veronica Mars) is cute as daughter Sophie. She’s pretty, but not in a conventional way, and of course, she can sing. I’m glad, however, that the core of the film is on Donna, not necessarily Sophie’s oft seen coming of age quest for her father. I’m not a Colin Firth (Pride and Prejudice) or Stellan Skarsgard (Pirates of the
Caribbean) fan, but both fit their parts here with humor and acceptable tunes. Only Pierce Brosnan (Die Another Day) is out of place. Pierce, Pierce-if this were a straight romantic drama or comedy, he would be to die for as the days of Remington Steele. I like Brosnan a lot, which is why I can watch Mamma Mia! and forgive the fact that he can’t sing. Not like I can sing myself, but it’s easy to pick Brosnan for last place among the cast here. Sorry!
At the same time, I discovered Abba music I didn’t know was Abba and music that I’d never heard before. Mamma Mia! gives us the obligatory ‘Dancing Queen’ and the eponymous track-which was stuck in my head for days after. The sound is done well, even if background singers spring up out of nowhere. It’s a musical, you can take a leap of faith when people break out in song. Mamma Mia! does gives us a few obvious onscreen music set ups, but for the most part the songs are fun and lighthearted. I didn’t how they would work one of the few songs I knew in there, but ‘Fernando’ has its moment. ‘Money, Money, Money’ and ‘Super Trouper’ aren’t as upbeat, but the low songs are forgivable when considering the desire to fit every Abba song possible in one under two hour movie.
While the dated and hokey nature of seventies styles are now accepted and even hip-we wouldn’t be having a musical comprised of Abba’s songs if they weren’t-it is in fact Mamma Mia’s contemporary stylings that may hinder its long lasting appeal. The shabby chic look of Donna’s villa, the dress of the three males leads, and the all too pretty beachy and bohemian look of Sophie and Sky trap this film in 2008. Sure maybe people copied Clueless for back to school 1995, but come 96, not so much. Mamma Mia! does win production values for its great Greek locales. The crystal waters, swift boats, impressive rocks and cliffs blend perfectly with the indoor soundstages. I don’t want to say ‘It’s all Greek to me’, but there were times when this Italian was out of the loop on the Greek marriage customs. I do wonder how the heck everyone climbed all those steps to that church though. Oiy.
Although the script from relative newcomer Catherine Johnson is thin in some places and too obvious in others-like the obligatory father bonding montages and near blatant cues for the music-the elder cast keeps things sardonic or witty where it needs to be. Where I’m sure some actors are embarrassed by musical attempts, I don’t think the cast here has anything to be ashamed of-even Brosnan! While there is definitely a hard core group of fans racking up the pre sales for this DVD release (it looks like the two disc edition has all the features) it’s the music and the talent that makes Mamma Mia! a successful transition from stage to screen. Instead of wallowing in Beach Bingo teeny drama, stage director Phyllida Lloyd keeps the mature members of the cast on top. Even though Lloyd lets the pace drag in between musical numbers, its rare to find a musical with adult fun and maturity that’s PG-13 enough for the whole family.
I don’t think guys will care for Mamma Mia!. Macho men might cringe at a wife or daughter’s obsession with this film. Those Abba songs over and over! Young guys, however, might like the music or the hot dancing. There’s nothing super naughty for tweens and younger-what there is might go over their heads, so Mamma Mia! might be a parent’s chance to swap out High School Musical for something they can enjoy, too. For surprising musical fun for the whole family, pick up Mamma Mia! on DVD this December.