Mamma Mia!

Director    Phyllida Lloyd
Starring    Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard
Release    18 JUL (US) 11 JUL (UK)    Certificate PG
4 stars


21st July 2008

If the words 'ABBA medley' conjure up images of Alan Partridge Aha-ing his way through an ill-advised TV duet, then this meticulously-crafted jukebox of disco hits might be enough to change your mind. Adapted from the stage musical - which has raked in over $2 billion in just under ten years - it's a winning mix of feel good floor-fillers, sun-drenched romance and perky pop classics. Note the exclamation mark: Mamma Mia! is all about fun, and when a cast look like they're having as much fun as they are here, it's impossible to resist their charms. Mark my words: your stoic resistance will crumble in mere minutes in the presence of mamma Meryl and her dancing queens.

For the theatrically illiterate, the plot is a melodic mash-up of ABBA songs, so naturally your enjoyment will be tempered by your affection for the Swedish songsters. (Though surely there can't be more than a handful of people on the planet who haven't at one time succumbed to Waterloo at a wedding). The tune goes like this: bride-to-be Sophie (Seyfried) invites three potential poppas - Sam (Brosnan), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and Harry (Colin Firth) - to the Greek island she calls home on the eve of her wedding. Each man could be her father, but the only woman who knows is her mother Donna (Streep), who's since been living a man-free life as the proprietor of the island's only hotel. Much soul-searching and saucy antics ensue. And yes, I know what you're thinking - they do make reference to the fact that Streep's character is basically a slut (I believe the term is 'cougar').

Shot against a luxurious azure backdrop, Mamma Mia! is never less than astonishingly beautiful to look at. The soft, golden glow of the setting sun and the crisp, cloudless skies are offset by the spectacular sight of the deepest, bluest ocean you've ever seen. The sea sparkles in the background of almost every shot like a giant disco ball - no coincidence when you consider the entire film is camper than Kenneth Williams' Christmas tree. Unsurprisingly, it's an aural pleasure as well as a visual one. The songs included are, with few exceptions, high-tempo dance numbers and they positively demand audience participation. Humming and tapping of the toes is mandatory, and smiling is enforced vigilantly throughout.

Chief warbler is Streep, who sings and dances with all the gusto of a woman half her age. Even pushing 60 years old, she's still game for anything and looks remarkably fresh-faced - her and Helen Mirren make a great case for growing old gracefully. Brosnan struggles to match her enthusiasm as her male counterpart, but it's kind of endearing that he and the rest of the cast aren't pros, giving the film a cheesy, karaoke-like feel. What Brosnan does supply is some middle-aged beefcake eye-candy for the more mature ladies, who'll likely make up the movie's target audience along with giggly groups of girls and the G-A-Y crowd. Thankfully, for the many heterosexual men who'll undoubtedly be dragged along, Seyfried has a great rack. Mamma mia indeed.

Admittedly, it's not all high kicks and nudge-wink playfulness. Mamma Mia! gets bogged down in soapy melodrama midway through, the inevitable slower numbers somewhat sapping the movie's energy. Comedowns include a few soppy numbers, particularly Streep's dramatic rendition of The Winner Takes It All, complete with Brosnan's awkward shuffling as he suffers a force ten ballad belted in his face for five minutes. Towards the conclusion, you get the creeping feeling that characters really only exist within the songs, doing and feeling only what the lyrics dictate: one minute Streep is all turning down her man after midnight, the next she's all I do I do I do I do I doing.

Nit-picking a little more, the supporting cast are also something of a mixed bag. Julie Walters pulls off her patented Mrs. Overall prat-falls to winning effect, but groom-in-waiting Dominic Cooper is a bit wet; a blatant female fantasy of a chiselled, hunky, submissive male.

But really, who are we kidding here? Mamma Mia! is an uplifting, joyful cinematic romp, stacked to the heels with classics and bursting forth with frivolity. Crucially, it has a healthy sense of its own ridiculousness (make sure you stick around for the end credits) which makes it considerably less jarring than seeing a dour Johnny Depp burst into song mid-conversation in Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd. Like a big gay Terminator, Mamma Mia! will track down your cynicism and blast it into smithereens: it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you're having fun. As the title song goes, "My my, how can I resist you..." Ali

More:  Musical  Family  Mamma Mia
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