Published Jul 17, 2008As a straightforward and guileless adaptation of the hit musical, Mamma Mia! mostly succeeds, despite the fact that it is essentially two hours of celebrity ABBA karaoke with only a little vocal talent.
Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frids layered harmonies and catchy hooks lend themselves well to the popular musical format, adding some accessibility to a less euphoniously discerning crowd than perhaps a Sondheim musical might, with its angular harmonies and polyphony. Understandably, this aggressively fluffy pop music is juxtaposed with an equally exuberant and almost psychotically optimistic plot about following ones heart and knowing that love is love regardless of DNA and external genitalia.
With her impending nuptials, 20-year-old Sophie (Amanda Seyfried, Bills oldest, anti-polygamist daughter on Big Love) is desperate to find her real father, whose identity has been kept hidden by her mother Donna (Meryl Streep). After uncovering her mothers diary, Sophie quickly finds out the reason that her mother has been so secretive about her patriarchal roots.
It seems that back in the day, Donna got pelvic with three different men in a very short period of time, which means that the father could be Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) or Harry (Colin Firth). In an effort to solve the mystery, Sophie invites all three men to her wedding, much to the surprise of her mother, and her mothers lifelong girlfriends (Julie Walters and Christine Baranski).
As surely as cynics will scoff at the unrealistic character reactions, occasionally crappy singing and frequently sloppy transitions between songs, ABBA-loving optimists will be tapping their toes along to each musical number and delighting in the sheer undeniable whimsy and spirit.
Director Phyllida Lloyd has opted for an edited, musical montage approach to the film rather than the choreographed soundstage method of other recent musicals like Enchanted and Hairspray. The result is decent and engaging, even if there are occasional moments similar to early 90s music videos where ingénues wear overly emotional expressions on their faces while singing at the camera.
The question that most people will invariably ask about Mamma Mia! is can the actors sing? The answer is both yes and no. Amanda Seyfried is impressive all around, proving herself as a bankable star, which is especially significant considering that she is standing next to the multi-talented Meryl Streep, who herself has some solid pipes.