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Jukebox Musical Makes the Jump to the Big Screen
by Mel Valentin on Jul 18, 2008
Only a curmudgeon would dislike Mamma Mia!, the big screen adaptation of the jukebox musical written by Catherine Johnson and directed by British stage veteran Phyllida Lloyd. Structured around an album's worth of greatest hits by 70s pop band, ABBA, Mamma Mia! is a too broad comedy that goes for easy laughs and cheap sentiment almost every chance it gets. That said, the film features some of the catchiest pop tunes ever put on vinyl (whether you want to admit it or not) and Meryl Streep tackling the one last great challenge of her career: singing.
Like everything else Streep has done over a career spanning four decades, she pulls it off magnificently. If only the story wasn't gossamer thin, the plot complications laughable, the jokes stale, and the direction more restrained. Well, we can’t have everything.
Borrowing plot points from a 1968 romantic comedy, Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell, the movie kicks off with Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), a young woman living on a Greek island with her mother, Donna (Meryl Streep), a hotel owner/operator, about to get married to her Brit fiancé, Sky (Dominic Cooper). However, Sophie, a child of the seventies, doesn’t know who her father is.
After rifling through her mother’s diary, Sophie narrows down the possibilities to three men, Sam Carmichael (Pierce Brosnan), an architect, Harry Bright (Colin Firth), a London banker, and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), a free-spirited boat owner. Eager to finally meet her father, Sophie impulsively invites the three men to the island for the wedding. Sophie gets her two best friends, Lisa (Rachel McDowall) and Ali (Ashley Lilley), in on her plan, only Sophie doesn’t tell her mother about Sam, Harry, or Bill.
It’s not long, though, before Donna discovers Sam, Harry, and Bill on the island (staying on the second floor of a goat house, no less). All of Donna’s experiences with the three men come flooding back, most of them bad, at least where Sam, the true love of Donna’s life, is concerned. Donna’s not alone, though. She has two friends of her own, Rosie (Julie Walters), a successful cookbook author, and Tanya (Christine Baranski), a multi-divorceé obsessed with looking young. With the clock counting down to Sophie and Sky’s wedding, all hell breaks loose, as Sam, Harry, and Bill discover that Sophie might be their daughter.
How Mamma Mia! turns out isn’t particularly important or, if it is, it’s easily predictable. We know exactly how the final pair-ups will look within the first few minutes. No, if there’s any reason to see Mamma Mia!, it’s to catch Meryl Streep singing her way through classic ABBA songs. While Streep has sung before, in Postcards from the Edge and The Prairie Home Companion, she has to carry the bulk of the singing in Mamma Mia! along with Amanda Seyfried, the nominal lead. Both actresses have enough range and verve to hit their notes without too much strain. Unfortunately, that doesn’t apply to the lesser talented actors and actresses.
And it doesn’t need to be said (but it will be anyway) that if you’re a fan of ABBA’s sugar-coated disco-pop now or in the recent past, there’s more than a 50/50 chance that you’ll like, if not exactly love, Mamma Mia!. After all, where else will you get a chance to hear long ago chart toppers like “Dancing Queen,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “Thank You for the Music,” “The Winner Takes It All,” “Voulez Vous,” “Super Trouper,” and a few more.
You could buy ABBA’s greatest hits or the cast recording of Mamma Mia!, but watching the big screen adaptation is the next best thing to seeing the musical live. If, however, the mere thought of sitting through ABBA covers strikes you with disgust, there’s plenty else you can check out in cinemas this weekend.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
by Mel Valentin on Jul 18, 2008