Tuesday, July 6, 2010

"Mamma Mia!" not perfect but likably goofy

Mamma Mia! (2008) 
108 min., rated PG.

If you love ABBA (and who wouldn't love those gay-happy Swedes?), then you'll enjoy this high-spirited, purely entertaining but technically amateurish film adaptation of the Broadway musical, "Mamma Mia!" Of course, it would be charitable to call the plot just a touch thin, but it more or less works as a padded framework for the '70s Swedish pop group's songs shoehorned into the premise. Get ready for a lot of jubilance. The talented and radiant Amanda Seyfried plays 20-year-old Sophie, living on a remote Greek island with her ex-rock star single mom Donna (Meryl Streep), who manages a cozy, rickety villa. Preparing for her white wedding with Sky (Dominic Cooper), the little lady stumbles upon Mamma's diary and comes to the conclusion that any three men could be her father. Could it be American architect Sam (Pierce Brosnan), British banker Harry (Colin Firth), or Swedish travel writer Bill (an oddly cast Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd)? Sophie secretly sends out invitations to them, and to her and her mom's surprise, they all show up! Bottom line, Mom's gotten around and has to confront her blasts from the past. 

Transferring Catherine Johnson's musical book (she also wrote the screenplay) to the screen, director Phyllida Lloyd (who made several runs of the stage production) is pretty pushy behind the camera, directing her actors and extras to mug and screech hysterically as if they're on the stage and we're in the theater mezzanine. Her directorial choices can be suspect, often cutting scenes and failing to know where to point the camera rather than just letting the choreography play out. The island villa looks like a flat, artificial stage set, with some distracting use of a greenscreen and overbright lighting, but when Lloyd decides to finally open up the film and let it breathe, the on-location scenery in Greece is certainly a beaut. Alternately, the choreography is exuberantly over-the-top and embarrassingly dorky, where during one number, young men in snorkel masks and flippers dance around on a dock. And the songs are irresistibly winning and performed with gusto by its vibrant cast. The show-stopping numbers of "Mamma Mia" and "Dancing Queen" are a lot of fun, and Seyfried and Streep's duet of "Slipping Through My Fingers" is touching. 

Meryl Streep is a joy to watch, as she enthusiastically jumps around in overalls and belts her little heart out, and Julie Walters and Christine Baranski are a riot as her feisty band BFFs. Of the unprofessional singers in the cast, Pierce Brosnan should be zeroed in on, as he shows such a rough lack of vocal training outside of the shower that you might just cringe. He can't hold a note and looks noticeably winded after his short duet of "S.O.S." with Streep; nice try Pierce, but Simon Cowell would call your karaoke-level attempt “bloody dreadful.” At any rate, all stage-to-film flaws aside, "Mamma Mia!" is still a likably goofy and sunny escapism. 

Grade: B -

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