July 17, 2008

Mamma Mia!

The Golden Oldie Girls

Grade: C –

Director: Phyllida Lloyd

Starring: Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgärd, Christine Baranski, and Julie Waters

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

If you feel the need to tap your toes to ABBA’s greatest hits, plug in your iPod. If you have a hankering for a faded jukebox musical, trek to the Great White Way and buy a ticket to the Winter Garden Theater. Otherwise, the film adaptation of Catherine Johnson’s long-running stage production
Mamma Mia!, based on ABBA’s songbook, is a shrill, garish pop-opera that uneasily treads the line between show-stopping and surreal.

On the eve of her wedding, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) tries to identify her father by inviting the three likely candidates to the seaside Greek villa run by her mother and erstwhile flower-child rocker, Donna (Meryl Streep): Sam (Pierce Brosnan) is a wealthy, New York architect; Harry (Colin Firth) is a vaguely gay London banker; and Bill (Stellan Skarsgärd) is a wandering free spirit. As Donna’s middle-aged gal-pals/former backup singers, the braying, fun-loving Rosie (Julie Waters) plays like the fifth Golden Girl while thrice-divorced Tanya (Christine Baranski) releases her inner cougar on the native island boys.

The end result is
Gidget viewed through the prism of a Bob Fosse fever-dream. Director Phyllida Lloyd, a veteran of the British theatre, fashions her feature film debut into a poorly paced, oddly drab affair that resembles a tedious, 1970s B-musical (even though the film is set in 1999). Most of the filming took place on the lots of England’s Pinewoods Studios, and there are abundant, obvious green-screened scenes. Moreover, while the ABBA ditties carry infectious beats, the lyrics are shoehorned into the narrative and do nothing to develop either characters or plot.

During its few blessed quiet moments, Streep flashes a dash of much-needed acting acumen. The rest is all histrionics and caterwauling – I’d rather hear a Ringo Starr revue than one more intonation from Brosnan. “Take a chance on me?” If it’s
Mamma Mia! asking, no thanks.

Neil Morris

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