Monday, 7 July 2008

Mamma Mia! - Review by Carmody Wilson

Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Screenwriter: Catherine Johnson
Running Time: 108 mins
Certificate: PG
Released: July 11th

Most musicals are plasteceine, detestable tripe-ridden journeys to a predictable ending, featuring transparent plot devices, insincere acting and alarming and unannounced bursts of idiotic song. Mamma Mia is really no different, but escapes the cheese of its predecessors sheerly by the talent and gameness of the cast, the smart direction and, naturally, the sing-out-loud music of Abba.

Set on a tiny Greek island, and abased on the stage show of the same name, Mamma Mia! tells the story of Sophie (Amanda Siefried) a young bride-to-be who invites all three of her potential fathers to her nuptials in the hopes of figuring out which one is the real deal. Meryl Streep is Donna, her rambunctious, aging hippy mother who runs a hotel on said island. All sorts of wacky reunions (complete with complex greeting rituals) take place as first Sophie’s British bridesmaids, then Donna’s American ( Christine Baranski) and British (Julie Walters) pals, and finally, the three dad candidates, an “American”, a Brit and a Swede respectively, ( Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard) arrive by boat to take their part in the musical mayhem.

The aggressive song bursts present in other musicals are actually enlivened here by the sheer dancieness of Abba’s upbeat song- smithing, and what is most grating about other musicals is quite engaging and fun in Mamma Mia! Streep sings well, her tender alto alternating between breathy on the more wistful numbers (“The Winner Takes It All”) and out and out belt-y bravado on the more robust numbers such as “Super Trouper.” But of course she can sing, she probably built the sets too. And that’s what’s surprising about this whole film is that while none of the title actors claim to be singers, everyone gamely tackles the disco-pop with spirit and panache. The only sore thumb-and it’s a big one- is Pierce Brosnan. His “American” Sam Carmichael is basically just Pierce Brosnan speaking in an accent undiscernable on either side of the Atlantic. And his singing? Well, he claims to have sung in a previous film, “Evelyn”, and Abba’s Benny Andersson has gone on record saying he thinks Brosnan’s voice is “great”, but it was a real sticking point. In the screening room there were gentle titters which eventually turned into out-and-out guffaws every time Brosnan set his steely gaze on the camera and huskily warbled out some of Abba’s more outlandish emotional projectiles. Stellan Skarsgard, incredibly, was one of the best parts of this crazily-assembled ensemble piece, and though he doesn’t really sing, captures the piratical role of the roving Swede Bill Anderson with a characteristic bohemium shrug and a gruff, earthy humour. Colin Firth pulls of his bumbling English schtick as well as usual and admitted that “Blind terror is a very bonding commodity” when tackling his singing role in the company of his fellow dads.

The complexity of the choreography and the freshness of the music add an unstoppable feel to this fun, uplifting summer film, and aside from the unexplained proliferation of British people on the island (shouldn’t they be at a foam party somewhere?) Mamma Mia! is the perfect, brainless, endlessly cheerful antidote to all the really stupid CGI flicks out there this summer. Hulk would be too busy tapping his toes to smash after seeing this one. Just hope that he turns a blind eye to the parts that Pierce Brosnan is in, and humanity is safe.

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