Oh for cripes sake, leave it alone.
Or maybe, I wanted to say “I give up,” as I traipsed out of the film rendition of “Mamma Mia!,” based on the play that has grossed over a cool $2 billion since it debuted in 1999.
DIRECTED BY Phyllida Lloyd
SCREENPLAY BY Catherine Johnson
STARRING Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Amanda Seyfried and Dominick Cooper
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes
A musical based on the songs of ABBA, the Swedish group responsible for some of the catchiest tunes in the past decades — not the best or most subtle, but hearty novelty songs such as “Dancing Queen,” Super Trouper,” and “The Winner Takes All.”
Odds are, many of you already have the scoop, as estimates inform us that 30 million citizens of Planet Earth have seen the play written and directed by the same women who staged the London musical: Phyllida Lloyd and Catherine Johnson, responsible for the book loosely based on the 1958 movie “Buena Sera, Mrs. Campbell,” starring Gina Lollobrigida.
It is what it is
More than a few critics have looked askance at “Mamma Mia!,” dismissing it as a silly chick spectacle bound to be savored by giddy females and some gay men. Oh well. True enough, I suppose, but once more, leave it alone. Take the musical for what it is — a joyous string of infectious ABBA melodies tied into a story about a girl named Sophie with a mother named Donna, a girl with a missing father who might be one of three men — Sam, Bill or Harry.
Having narrowed the list from Mom’s diary, Sophie secretly invites the guys to her wedding on the Aegean island where the mother and daughter reside. “I want the perfect wedding. I want my father to give me away,” she says. Meanwhile, Donna has invited her best friends, Rosie and Tanya, to the feast. Alas, during their heyday they were in a singing group called Donna and the Dynamos.
In case you have been residing on Pluto, I will inform you that the girls will sing. Oh, will they sing. It’s “Mamma Mia!” when Donna learns the boys are on her island, and when she doubts she still has the mojo or moja or whatever, they parade around the island happily belting out the lyrics to “Dancing Queen.”
On and on it goes: ABBA for fans and beginners. The movie adaptation is not Busby Berkley; nor is it Fred and Ginger or Gene and Debbie. It may not be sophisticated entertainment, but it’s fun. Not total fun, but even if you at first refuse to let down your defenses or classical tastes, you may well surrender and leave the theater humming a tune or two. You may even feel like breaking into song.
“Mamma Mia!” Silly, silly. It’s camp. Pure camp. It’s girls playing dress-up, remembering old times. Girls being girls. The first half hour is pretty dull, but then it motors up. What the heck. Leave it alone, so long as you acknowledge this is candy store schlock, a diversion even for Meryl Streep, who is, in a word, terrific as Donna.
Twenty-three years ago, it was Streep in “Sophie’s Choice,” and now as a bookend of sorts, it’s Streep again, proving she is one of our most versatile actresses, effortlessly displaying her classical training with finely tuned dramatic reactions and a superb singing voice in a piece of puff.
No slouch herself, Christine Baranski is equally as good in a supporting role, as is Julie Walters, who first came to our attention in 1984 as the title character in “Educating Rita.”
Pierce Brosnan has next to no voice at all, but he bravely and cavalierly does a credible job as Sam, one of the three suitors. Colin Firth sings and performs nicely, as does Stellan Skarsgard as Bill. I liked Amanda Seyfried, who plays Sophie. She has a pleasant, sonorous voice and an easy manner.
But make no mistake: This is Streep’s movie, and there is no better moment than when she sings “The Winner Takes All.” Take heart, purists. Surrender and go on.