Mamma Mia! has
been a bit of a surprise as a theatrical phenomenon – and yet in a lot of
ways it makes perfect sense.
is a light as air confection, a love note to marriage, family, the Greek
Isles and 70s pop culture.
frankly, it’s got a hell of a lot better music than 90% of all Broadway
the music all comes from the songbook of ABBA, the Swedish group that over a
career that lasted barely a decade put together one of the great pop
songbooks of recent history.
of the music of ABBA is used a little oddly in the movie
version of Mamma Mia! – “Waterloo” as background
music in one scene and “Knowing Me, Knowing You” becomes an
instrumental wedding march.
Other songs do not exactly make sense to the action in the story – for
example when a daughter sings “Honey Honey” about
the father she never met,
it’s just a little creepy. After all the song has lines like
“you're a love machine/boy you make me dizzy…” and
“honey, to say the least,
you're a doggone beast.” Not very daughterly.
Even when the songs do sort of fit the situation, they always feel a little
the movie version, everything is done a little bigger than on stage. We
actually get to see the Greek Isle home of Donna (Meryl Streep), a former
pop star who now runs a bed and breakfast and is throwing a wedding party
for her daughter. The normally spot-on actress is
obviously having a ball playing the role
she is going way over-the-top in a manner that she almost never allows
herself to approach on film (mostly for good reasons.). However, maybe
she should have been told to reign it in a bit
it is certainly far from one of Streep's better performances.
Greek Isle is gorgeous and lends itself to joyous singing and dancing.
Yet, it all probably works better on the stage.
story – what little story there is – has the daughter Sophie (Amanda
Seyfried of Mean Girls) inviting three of Donna’s exes to her wedding
in hopes of finding out who her dad is. The trio are all different types
(Pierce Brosnan as an American, Colin Firth as a Brit and Stellan Skarsgård
as a Greek) and meeting each does nothing to clear up her paternity.
Brosnan is having a lot of fun in the role and he plays it with a breezy
charm – but really, he can’t sing. Not being mean, but
he really, really can't, and eventually has three or four songs
– none of which work – specifically because Brosnan does
not have the vocal talent to pull them off.
Couldn’t they have dubbed
his vocals with another singer? Was Marnie Nixon
too busy or something? Frankly,
Julie Walters could have used a vocal ringer, too.
other singers ranged from nice-enough-but-unexceptional (Colin Firth) to
perfectly competent if a little mannered (Meryl Streep has sung before and
does a fine job, but she's not
going to make anyone forget Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters or Betty Buckley) to surprisingly
charming (Amanda Seyfried could have more of a career in musicals if she
decides to go that way.)
Still, too much of the singing and much of the dancing is amateurish. (The
dancing divers on a dock during the “Lay All Your Love on Me” set piece
are almost comically bad).
is particularly noticeable when Christine Baranski gets her solo shot with
“Does Your Mother Know?” The long-time hoofer comes out
smoking and schools the rest
of the cast. It makes you wonder what this film could have been had they
actually got more song and dance pros and were less concerned with finding
great thespians – since Mamma Mia! is certainly not an actor’s film.
recognize that was what they were going for – trying to make it seem that
love will bring the common people to song, despite their talent (or lack
thereof…). Still, it’s sort of like the difference between Renee Zellweger and
Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago – Zellweger was an actress who could
kind of sing and dance, Zeta-Jones was a singer and dancer who can also act
damned well. Despite the fact that Zellweger was the supposed star,
Zeta-Jones stole the film right out from under her – just because she had
the all of the talent needed for the role.
of the cast of Mamma Mia! only has part of the talent, which seems to
be selling both the film and the audience short. Luckily the music is good
enough that it weathers the sometimes underwhelming performances.
isn’t a great movie. It’s not even a very good movie. However, it is a fun
movie, which is all it ever wanted to be. Sometimes that’s enough.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: July 20, 2008.