FILM REVIEW: ‘Mamma Mia!’

mammamia 1 2008By Ray Bennett

LONDON – No matter how many blockbusters there are, Universal Pictures’ screen version of the global hit stage musical “Mamma Mia!” is the most fun to be had at the movies this or any other recent summer.

Teenage boys may be glued to the latest action adventure, but the rest of the family will be having a rollicking good time and dancing in the aisles to Swedish pop group ABBA’s irresistible songs. It’s a delightful piece of filmmaking with a marvelous cast topped by Meryl Streep in one of her smartest and most entertaining performances ever.

After its world premiere in London on Monday, the film opens in the U.K. on July 4 and in North America on July 18. It will surely follow the stage show around the world in pleasing audiences and coining what one of the infectious songs celebrates: “Money, Money, Money.”

Credit goes to the original show’s creators, producer Judy Craymer, director Phyllida Lloyd and writer Catherine Johnson, for seeing their vision through to such a polished and enjoyable picture. Hanging a tale of a woman whose daughter might have been fathered by one of three attractive men on a bunch of ABBA songs sounds simple, but its simplicity is as deceptive as the masterfully crafted songs themselves.

Streep plays Donna, a former singer, who has raised daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) alone at a fading resort on a remote Greek island. Sophie finds her mother’s diary from 20 years earlier and discovers that there are three men who might be her father. About to be married to boyfriend Sky (Dominic Cooper), she sends invitations to the celebration to all three on behalf of her mother but without telling her.

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Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard, as the possible dads, show up on the island where Donna is readying the wedding, helped by her two best pals (Julie Walters and Christine Baranski). The scene is set for songs, dancing and romance, all staged brilliantly, with many energetic and colorful performers, and beautifully shot.

The Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus songs have memorably sturdy lyrics that the filmmakers weave with great skill into their story. All of the players perform with gusto including Skarsgard, ex-007 Brosnan and noted Mr. Darcy Firth who, far from embarrassing themselves, sing well and deserve high praise for being such good sports.

Seyfried (from TV’s “Big Love”) and Cooper (“The History Boys”) make appealing juvenile leads while Walters and Baranski contribute greatly to the film’s good-natured comedy. Each has a big solo number with Baranski belting out “Does Your Mother Know?” to a randy beach bum and Walters entreating a reluctant groom with “Take a Chance on Me.”

Streep is sensationally good in rendering the whole yarn credible and in making dramatically moving songs such as “Slipping Through My Fingers,” sung to her departing daughter, and “The Winner Takes It All” to a lost love. It’s no stretch to think of her performance in Oscar terms, ranking with previous musical winners such as Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

And when Streep teams with Walters and Baranski for dynamic and crowd-pleasing numbers such as “Mamma Mia!” “Dancing Queen” and “Super Trouper,” there’s not an audience anywhere that won’t be smiling.

Opens: July 4 in the U.K.; July 18 in North America (Universal Pictures); Cast: Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Julie Walters, Dominic Cooper, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski; Director: Phyllida Lloyd; Screenwriter: Catherine Johnson; Director of photography: Haris Zambarloukos; Production designer: Maria Djurkovic; Music: Stig Anderson, Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus; Costume designer: Ann Roth; Editor: Lesley Walker; Producers: Benny Andersson, Judy Craymer, Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Rita Wilson; Executive producer: Mark Huffam; Production: Littlestar Prods., Playtone; Running time, 108 mins.

This review appeared in The Hollywood Reporter.

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One Response to FILM REVIEW: ‘Mamma Mia!’

  1. Barbara West says:

    Dear Mr. Bennett,
    Thank you so much for saying nice things about Mamma Mia! Many people refuse to read film critics anymore, because they always say horrible things about all the movies ordinary folk like best, and they always praise anything sad, twisted or drenched in despair. You are also a very brave man, because the other critics will heap ridicule upon your head now. Thank you for standing up for the common people!
    Yours sincerely,
    Barbara West

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