Rating: 2.5 stars
So you want the good news or the bad news? Okay, the good news: Mamma Mia! is a sun-kissed, spirited camp romp, with lots of fun moments and some inspired bits of musical comedy.
The bad news: At times the whole enterprise feels a little desperate.
Let’s start with La Meryl herself (aka Meryl Streep): She plays Donna, the owner of a slightly dilapidated inn in Greece. Her 20-year-old daughter Sophie (adorable Amanda Seyfried) is getting married and wants her father to give her away. The problem? Sophie doesn’t know who her father is and Donna has been stubbornly mum on the subject. So Sophie steals Donna’s diary and finds out that her father could be one of three men—her mom’s first love Sam (Pierce Brosnan) or one of the two rebound guys, uptight Harry (Colin Firth) and adventurous Bill (Stellan Skarsgard). She invites them to the wedding and, for reasons that are never made completely clear, doesn’t tell her mother.
Like every other red-blooded American filmgoer, I am an admirer of Meryl Streep. She is obviously a brilliant, nearly peerless actress, with an incredible bag of acting tricks. But lately, she has apparently decided to stop doing what my Uncle Richard fondly calls the “Sophie Goes To” series (Sophie Goes to Africa, Sophie Goes Down Under, etc.) and decided to reinvent herself as a comedienne. Results, as they say, have varied.
I loved her in The Devil Wears Prada, where she was gloriously bitchy with just the slightest soupcon of humanity, but I was less thrilled with her work in A Prairie Home Companion, where she seemed to do little more than fling herself about giddily. More of the same occurs in Mamma Mia!. Streep is trying to convince us that Donna is free-spirited and still coquettishly gamine, but she simply tries too hard. Her performance, at times, evoked a drunk mother carrying on at a wedding. I was occasionally embarrassed for her. How’s her singing? Decent, I suppose. But hardly Broadway-ready.
Then again, only an actress as formidable as Meryl Streep could make any sense of the song “The Winner Takes It All”—sung, quite dramatically I might add—at a completely inappropriate moment in the film (I’d say more, but I don’t want to ruin the suspense). Which leads to the next problem with Mamma Mia!: The beloved disco-pop songs are somewhat forcibly inserted into the action. The lyrics (never really ABBA’s forte to begin with) are only glancingly pertinent to what’s happening on screen.
As for the trio of male leads, they’re always welcome presences, even if Pierce Brosnan is not welcome to sing near me ever again.
Julie Walters and Christine Baranski, on hand as Donna’s best friends, do add a dose of theatrical professionalism to the proceedings, but again, their Ya Ya Sisterhood-style bonding with Streep seems a little forced and shrieky.
Sorry, I am being a bit of a buzz kill. Mamma Mia! may try too hard to be frothy fun—but, hey, at least it’s trying. And sometimes it really hits the mark. (The "Dancing Queen" production number is particularly rousing.)
Let me leave you with this: If you are a fan—in no particular order—of musical comedies, ABBA, Meryl Streep, female bonding films, any of the greying hunks in the middle of the baby mama drama, and beautiful Greek scenery, you’ll probably like this film. If you are a fan of all those things, you’ll positively love it.