- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Universal
Reviewed by David Medsker
ay this for “Mamma Mia!”: it is one brilliant piece of counter-programming. Not only did no other movie want to open on the same weekend as “The Dark Knight,” no one even wanted to open on either side of the same weekend as “The Dark Knight.” (“Hellboy” and “Step Brothers” may have their fans, but “Iron Man,” they ain’t.) This is great news for Universal, since it means the movie has no real competition. And it is a very good thing that the movie has no natural predators at the box office, because the movie is already its own worst enemy. Is it a screwball comedy? Is it a sweet love story? Is it a tender family drama? It is all of those things, and none of those things.
Meryl Streep is Donna, the proprietor of a charming but run-down hotel in the Greek isles. Her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is getting married, and she has spent her whole life with no idea of the identity of her real father. After sneaking a peek at one of her mother’s diaries, she has narrowed the list of potential candidates down to three: Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Harry (Colin Firth) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård). Sophie invites them all to her wedding – though all three men think Donna sent the invitation – and all three accept. As Sophie spends time with the men, she tries to discern which one is her actual father, but when Donna finds the men in her hotel, she tries to keep them as far away from Sophie as possible. Oh, and one last, minor detail: this entire story is stitched together by ABBA songs, and everybody sings. Even Brosnan. Poor Brosnan.
Your opinion of ABBA aside, the songs work well in context with the story (with the exception of “Take a Chance on Me,” which is awkwardly shoehorned into the finale), so there are no far-reaching interpretations of the songs’ original meanings like there were in “Across the Universe.” Having said that, “Across the Universe” works far, far better as a musical, while “Mamma Mia!” feels forced and clumsy. The broad-as-a-barn humor – almost singularly personified in Julie Walters’ character Rosie – may make more sense on a stage, but it derails the story’s stronger selling points on the big screen. The bigger problem, though, is that most of the musical numbers simply do not work. “Dancing Queen” is easily the highlight of the movie (the audience actually applauded when it ended), but try not to laugh unintentionally during “Lay All Your Love on Me,” or any time that Brosnan has to sing.
Now, Brosnan has shed his James Bond skin to become a fine actor, but he is no singer. At the risk of giving away too much, it’s clear why they chose him for the role of Sam, but surely there is some actor out there in that age bracket, with that kind of babe magnet factor, that can actually sing. It’s not that Brosnan misses his notes: it’s just painfully clear that he is trying really, really hard, while singing is like breathing for everyone else. Streep, in fact, handles herself very well, thank you very much. Man, is there anything that woman can’t do?
Had they toned down the cornball moments and worked a more organic flow into the song-and-dance numbers, “Mamma Mia!” would have been something special. However, in the wake of “Moulin Rouge,” “Hairspray,” “Chicago” and “Across the Universe,” the movie’s old-fashioned approach just feels old-fashioned. This will not bother fans of the show in all likelihood, but as a singular moviegoing experience, “Mamma Mia!” is too disjointed to stand on its own.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
ABBA fans are going to love the DVD and Blu-ray release for “Mamma Mia!,” as it combines the experience of watching the stage production with watching the movie with a sing-along feature that puts the lyrics on-screen during the musical numbers. There is also a deleted scene to the song “The Name of the Game,” along with some other non-musical deleted scenes. The featurettes cover everything from the location shoot in Greece (and London set designed to look just like it) to the casting and preparations for shooting a musical. (Sadly, this includes many more scenes of Pierce Brosnan singing.) Director Phyllida Lloyd also contributes an audio commentary, while Blu-ray owners get even more goodies like a picture-in-picture video track (including a behind-the-scenes look at how incredibly cute Amanda Seyfried is), pop-up trivia on the music in the film (“Behind the Hits”), and Universal’s new My Commentary feature, which allows you to record your very own audio commentary and share it with friends. Dig in, dancing queens.