by Laura Tucker
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Contrary to what some think at first, Mamma Mia! isn’t about ABBA music; it has an entirely separate story built around and featuring ABBA music. While it may be the ABBA music that draws people to the film, the story surrounding it is just as good, if not better. Somehow, they perfectly complement each other, to the extent that they both become greater. Add to this the star power of a few key names, and it’s all you need for a great summer flick.
Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is getting married and only wants one thing: her father to walk her down the aisle. The problem is, not only has she never met him—she doesn’t even know who he is. Her mom has never divulged that information to her. She lives on a Greek island, and as her two best girlfriends arrive in preparation for the wedding, she shares with them that she has found her mother’s old diary.
Looking at the year she was conceived and singing the film’s first musical number, “Honey, Honey,” Sophie narrows her father down to three possible men, Sam, Bill or Harry (Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgård and Colin Firth), each of whom her mother indicated that she slept with by writing that they “danced, kissed, and …” Sophie pulls a bold move and sends them each letters on behalf of her mom, asking them to attend her wedding.
It’s a case of “like mother, like daughter” as Sophie’s mother, Donna (Meryl Streep), also has her two best girlfriends in for the wedding—Rosie the cookbook author (Julie Walters) and Tanya the “serial bride” (Christine Baranski). When they were younger, these friends performed as backup girls to Donna in Donna and the Dynamos. Donna shows them around the villa she owns and manages on the island and shares her physical and financial difficulties doing it all on her own, but in some ways she wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s too independent.
Donna is also stubborn about letting anyone else into Sophie’s life. She fully supports her getting married if that’s what she truly wants, but she can’t seem to decide if she’s as much of a free spirit as she is and shouldn’t be settling down so soon. Furthering her anxiety, Donna sees the middle-aged versions of the three men she fell for that crazy summer and fears them being around her daughter, as even she isn’t sure which one of them is Sophie’s father. Of course, secrets of this significance can’t stay secret very long.
Sometimes a play has a hard time making the adjustment into a movie, and you can literally see the seams, but not in this case. However, there are a few oddly placed moments where it seemed they thought, “Hey, we can add a bunch of stuff here now, since it’s a movie and not a play,” such as when Streep is singing “Money, Money, Money”: “So I must leave/I’ll have to go to Las Vegas or Monaco,” and they flashback or forward, into Streep sitting in front of a dark screen holding a fistful of cards. It’s just oddly two-dimensional and has you expecting to see a wink in there or something.
Yet, Streep’s singing is surprisingly good. Looking at this great actress, with a boatload of credits under her, it makes you wonder if there’s anything she can’t do. She can pull off drama and comedy, and now it seems she can pull off dancing and signing, as well. Pierce Brosnan is a different story. His singing strained at best, yet it doesn’t stop him from throwing himself fully into the role of Sam, Donna’s first love, who left her twenty years ago after announcing an engagement to another woman. But in some ways, it’s refreshing to find this guy who doesn’t sing well thrown in here, singing “SOS” with Streep. It adds depth and reality.
It also adds to the grit of the film. The mixture of flavors and feelings make it campy and fun, between the ABBA music, the earthy townspeople on this Greek island who become the chorus as they pass judgment on Donna’s life, to the kitschy characters of Donna’s friends. The grittiness, earthiness, kitschiness, and campiness somehow combine to make something totally warm. It’s a unique experience, leading you to realize why Mamma Mia! has been so popular on stage for so long.
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