Mamma Mia!

by Alan Rapp on July 17, 2008

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Mamma Mia!
  • IMDB: link

The British stage show based on Swedish pop music comes to American theaters.  Well, you don’t see that every week.  The long-running international musical has made more than a few quid since its premiere in London in 1999.  Just how successful?  It’s the 17th longest running Broadway show of all-time (beating out little muscials like Sound of Music, The Music Man, and My Fair Lady).  It’s been adapted in eleven different languages and has grosssed and estimated $2 billion worldwide.

On a small Greek island Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is preparing for her wedding to Sky (Dominic Cooper), but something is missing.  Sophie has been raised on the island by her loving mother Donna (Meryl Streep), former lead singer of Donna and the Dynamos who now owns and runs a small villa on the island.  Sophie loves her mother and her life, but she has always been kept in the dark about the identity of her father.

After stealing her mother’s diary, Sophie invites to her wedding three men who her mother was seeing at the time of her conception.  They include an American architect named Sam (Pierce Brosnan), a British banker named Harry (Colin Firth), and an Australian writer named Bill (Stellan Skarsgard).  Sophie hopes to discover the identity of her father before she walks down the aisle.

Of course none of the three know about Sophie’s plans or that she believes one of them may be her father, though understanding comes to each of them separately the night before the wedding.  Sophie, who has never had a father now has three proud papas waiting to walk her down the aisle.

The movie is based on the musical which has become an international success.  All the music used is from the Swedish band ABBA.  Although I’ve never seen the musical performed on stage, here the songs fit the boisterous and larger-than-life mood of the film.  The men struggle a bit when called to sing but the women, especially Streep and Seyfried, are terrific.

I want to take a second to discuss Amanda Seyfried, perhaps until now best known as Veronica Mars’ dead best friend Lily Kane.  Perfectly cast, she’s the heart and soul of the film and adds spirit and rambunctious energy that’s contagious.  Streep, no doubt, will get most of the attention here, but it’s Seyfried who steals the show.

There are also several supproting performances with noting including Donna’s friends, and former Dynamos, Tonya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Waters) who show up to help with the ceremony.  And, though too numerous to list here, there are many extras who provide nice moments as the locals during the film’s big musical numbers (plus, look out for cameos by ABBA members!).

The film has a larger-than-life style to it in both the musical numbers and in its comedy.  I’m not sure I would classify it as a farce, but it does have much in common in terms of going for the big laughs, often caused by absurd situations.  Not all of them work, but enough do to allow you to enjoy the craziness.

Beginning on August 29th, Universal Pictures is releasing a special Sing-Along Edition of the film with karaoke subtitles and encouraging audiences to sing along with the film.  This experience (read here for more) adds something to the film, improving the overall experience.  To get the full effect you’ll have to go during peak times to near sold out theaters, but it’s the best way to see the film.

Mamma Mia! is a fun, if somewhat flawed film.  Fans of the musical should enjoy themselves, and newcommers should have an enjoyable time.  The film is structured to go for only big laughs and big moments which means it hits its fair share but, as these types of films often do, misses a few as well.  It’s far from subtle, but it pretty entertaining which some good performances, mostly from the women, and some Swedish pop songs.  It may not be for everyone, but if that sounds good to you I’d suggest you give it a chance.

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