Friday, March 6, 2020

Mamma Mia! Review


I´m not the biggest fan of ABBA and I´ve never been seen dancing around in flashy clothing to the beat of "Dancing Queen." There is no tiara or high heeled boots in my closet. There are a few songs from the Swedish disco group that I enjoy, but I´m not going to say that there was anything of interest in me journeying out to see the film "Mamma Mia! The Movie" upon its release in July. The film garnered mixed reviews and some simply loved the film, while others felt it was absolutely horrendous. Regardless of what critics had to say, "Mamma Mia!" went on to gross roughly $425 million internationally and almost $150 domestically. Either the critics that lambasted the film were woefully wrong, or the number of fans of ABBA and the 1999 musical were grossly underestimated. Universal has released multiple versions of the film onto video including this 2-Disc special edition DVD release.

Before watching the film on home video for the first time the realization hit that my environment is a little different than it was when "Mamma Mia!" was released theatrically. No, I have not gone out and bought myself some knee high leather boots and iridescent bell bottomed pants. I have not eschewed my beloved Pearl Jam for the Seventies pop group. I´ve simply been lucky enough to find myself a wonderful young lady to fill much of my time and unfortunately for me, she absolutely loved the film and saw it in theaters. I first watched the film on Blu-ray, and at that time the proclamation was made by her that "If you don´t laugh while watching this movie, something must be wrong with you." That is a bold statement and it was at that point I realized I´d be sitting down with her to watch this cinematic offering of the ABBA musical and see if the film held up to her high appraisal or if something would happen to me if I didn´t laugh at least once.

The story takes place on the Greek island of Skopelos where former singer Donna Sheridan (Meryl Streep) now runs a rundown hotel on the island with her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfriend). Sophie is to be married to her fiancĂ© Sky (Dominic Cooper) and has decided what she wants mostly at her wedding is for her father to give her away. Unfortunately, Donna was quite promiscuous at the time of Sophie´s conception and Donna´s diary tells of three men who she had "dot dot dot" with (watch the movie to understand) and each of these men could be Sophie´s father. Sophie has sent out letters of invitation to each of the men after reading the diary and doing some research to track down their whereabouts and have each arrive as Sophie believes she´ll recognize her father the moment she sees the three men.

Donna knows nothing of Sophie´s plans and does not know that the three former lovers will soon be arriving on her island. The first is American Sam Carmichael (Pierce Brosnan), a businessman who had captured Donna´s heart, but left her to become married to another woman. Donna had loved Sam and felt he was the one and was heartbroken when they broke up. She then fell into the arms of two other men. One is Harry Bright (Colin Firth) is a British banker who shared a quick romance with Donna before switching teams and finding a love for men. The other is the adventurous Swede Bill Anderson (Stellan Skarsgard) who enjoys boating and living a free and exciting life. The three men had never previously met, but found themselves together on Bill´s boat on their way to a reunion with Donna.

When the men arrive, Sophie discovers that she cannot be sure of which man is truly her father and she quickly moves them into secret quarters in a storage room at the hotel. The three are confused at first, but quickly realize that Donna did not invite them and Sophie fills them in on the fact that it was her that invited them. Sam remembers the last time he talked to Donna and the less than amicable words shared and Sam, Harry and Bill ponder whether or not they should stay or return to Bill´s boat. Donna soon discovers the three men and drops (literally) in on them, where she is angered and tells them to leave. Donna´s two former background singers Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters) are also in attendance for Sophie´s wedding and attempts to talk Donna out of wanting the three men to leave.

The film continues as Sophie tries to uncover which of the men is her father by spending time with each of them and Donna grapples with her returning feelings of love after years of celibacy after each of the three men had broken her heart. There is a lot of singing and dancing, but it slowly becomes clear that Sam is still very much in love with Donna and she still loves the American that went and married another woman so many years before. Donna, Tanya and Rosie put on a little reunion show for Sophie and her friends and the climax of the film culminates in the discovery of who may or may not be the father of young Sophie and each of the three men find love and there is, of course, a happy ending; although the answer everybody wants to know throughout the film may not end as one hopes.

When the credits began to roll, I was told to watch just a few minutes longer. You won´t believe the outfits the cast wore to provide a little more entertainment before the film ended. I feel bad that Dominic Cooper wore the bright pink outfit he did. Another thing that happened when the credits began to roll was the realization that I did enjoy watching "Mamma Mia! The Movie" and while I´m not ready to call it an instant classic, it is a better than average musical that is boosted by the memorable musical numbers that show the depth and popularity of ABBA and their catalog. I had my doubts about this movie when the screener arrived and I remember just rolling my eyes when previews began to play ions ago promoting the film. It took a pretty young blonde to finally twist my arm into watching this film and she had me prepared for a lengthy discussion of why I didn´t like the film, but fortunately I didn´t find much to dislike about "Mamma Mia!"

This isn´t to say that I enjoyed everything about the film. There was one thing in particular that pained me and that was the singing of Pierce Brosnan. It is horrible. I heard and read some of the comments made by critics and they compared him to anything from a water buffalo to having a voice that induced vomiting. I have to agree in general and Brosnan should have had somebody else sing for him. Where was Danny Elfman? Stellan Skarsgard looks decades older than when he appeared in "The Hunt for Red October" or any of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequels, but his voice is what hurts his performance as well. It isn´t quite as painful to listen to the Swede, but he doesn´t carry a tune very well either. Thankfully, I can use BD-Live to perhaps record my own looping of their songs for a party down the road (I really won´t be doing this, but technology would allow it).

The rest of the cast are admirable in their performances. All of the male actors give good performances, but only Firth and Cooper sing well enough to entertain. The four female leads fare a little better. Amanda Seyfriend is a fellow Pennsylvanian and comes from Allentown. I was very surprised with how strong her voice is and at both her acting and her singing. Her voice is the real gem of this film. The fictional "girl power band" of Donna and the Dynamos has Streep, Walters and Baranski having most of the fun in the film with the more comedic performances and the majority of the songs. I can only recall Walters as Molly Weasley in the "Harry Potter" films and Baranski continues to portray an aging sex kitten as she did in "The Grinch," but Meryl Streep is a legendary actress. All three share a strong chemistry throughout the film and while they cannot compete with ABBA, they sound quite good.

The story itself is pretty good. Writer Catherine Johnson had written the script for the musical and worked with the team of writers to bring the musical to the big screen. This is not intended to be a powerfully dramatic film and musicals are always meant to be watched with a little suspension of reality, but the musical numbers are entertainingly introduced into the film and I enjoyed moments when the dancers and background singers were put into frame. The pacing of the film and the direction of Phyllida Lloyd shows that the veteran theatre director had a strong grasp on the material and knew exactly what was needed to make the "Mamma Mia!" musical a worthwhile cinematic experience. Very rarely does a musical become a classic and I always find a degree of hokey moments in a musical and "Mamma Mia!" contains a few of these, but the songs and scenes are good enough to easily keep the film afloat.