Thursday, July 24, 2008

FILM: Mamma Mia!

Even several days after seeing Mamma Mia, the infectious Abba tunes are still playing in my head. That's not a complaint. It makes me smile, and sometimes I have to repress the urge to jump up on the table and start dancing. The film was great fun. Of course, you need to like Abba (there's probably more music than dialog), and the film, like the play, is an excuse for one production number after another. You also need to like musicals, and be able to accept the fact that characters burst into song at every opportunity, and that a charming chorus of Greek villagers pop out of the windows and blue doors of their white-washed houses to fill out appropriately over-the-top song-and-dance numbers. There's also the initial strangeness of hearing actors sing whom we haven't known as singers before (remember Moulin Rouge?), but you get over it. Of course nobody is surprised that a respectable singing voice is yet another talent of the uber-talented Meryl Streep. Seeing/hearing Pierce Brosnan sing, on the other hand, does induce a double-take or more. But it's all in good fun, and the film is a rollicking good time. It was well-cast all around. Amanda Seyfried was a terrific fresh face and talent as Meryl Streep's daughter Sophie, who's getting married and wants her father to walk her down the aisle, if only she could figure out who he is. Dominic Cooper did a great job as her fiancé, and they generated some heat in their number together on the beach. Meryl Streep was excellent as expected, singing, dancing, physical comedy, she brings it all. Brosnan, along with Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård, did great jobs in their roles as the possible fathers. And both Christine Baranski and Julie Walters, as Meryl Streep's old gal pals, were quite funny, and each had a great number of their own. The story was elliptical at times, and if one overthinks it, one might be disappointed that the comic possibilities inherent in the creative plot weren't fully mined (think what Shakespeare might have done with three putative fathers on a collision course with an ex-lover and a wedding processional). But this isn't Shakespeare, it's a jukebox musical, and the plot does a surprisingly good job of propelling forward the sequence of songs not written to tell this story. Director Phyllida Lloyd (who also piloted the stage production) understands that it's all about the numbers, and she's done a nice job translating a stage production into a cinematic musical spectacle. The visuals and foot-tapping songs will keep you smiling. (Though caution: the gorgeous Greek scenery might have you lunging for Travelocity to figure out how one gets to the islands of Skopelos and Skiathos, where this was filmed.)

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