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Review of “Mamma Mia!”

Even were it not the title of one of Swedish pop group ABBA’s most beloved songs, Mamma Mia! might just be the most aptly-titled movie of the year.

Because my Mom is gonna loooooooove it.

A frothy, breezy confection of a movie musical, Mamma Mia! looks, sounds, and feels like summer. Shot on location in sun-soaked Greece amidst iridescent coastal waters, pristine beaches and a forest of tanned young limbs, the movie is the equivalent of a “Having a Wonderful Time, Wish You Were Here …” postcard as delivered by a chorus of screaming singing telegrams.

The plot itself is as thin as the gauzy fabrics favored by the cast: on the eve of her wedding, young Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) reads her mother’s diary in order to learn the identity of her father. When she finds three men who could potentially be pops, she mails invites to all three in her mother’s name. When all three actually arrive on the tiny Greek island where Sophie and her mother, Donna (Meryl Streep), run a ramshackle inn, she does her best to hide the suitors but eventually the secret is out and the game becomes trying to figure out which one might be her dad.

The men are three distinct types. Rich but rugged Swede Bill (Stellan Skarsgård) is an adventurer who doesn’t want to be tied down. Laced-up Brit Harry (Colin Firth) is a proper shadow of the wild man he used to be. And nice-guy millionaire Sam (Pierce Brosnan) is clearly still in love with Donna, further complicating the situation.

Of course, amidst all the intrigue there’s still a wedding to pull off, and Sophie’s fiancée Sky (the adorable Dominic Cooper) and Donna’s best buds Rosie (Julie Walters) and Tanya (Christine Baranski) also get pulled into the chaos.

As you can imagine, a wacky comedy about mystery paternity set to the songs of ABBA isn’t really anything to be taken too seriously. And director Phyllida Lloyd is wise to let a somewhat casual, devil-may-care vibe suffuse the proceedings. You won’t find any razor-sharp choreography, pitch-perfect singing, or stunning production numbers in Mamma Mia!, so if you’re looking for another Dreamgirls or Chicago, you’re out of luck. The whole mood is much more whimsical, casual, and wistful, which may do well to pull in musical-averse audiences who aren’t keen on the trappings of the classics. Mamma feels more like a backyard talent show than a Broadway blockbuster.

Of course, this more casual feel does take its toll on a few key elements, and most of those elements involve singing. Okay, I won’t beat around the bush here and just say point-blank that Pierce Brosnan’s walrus warble very nearly ruins the movie entirely.

He tries. He really, really does. And thankfully he only has a few numbers to carry, but boy does he drag them through the mud in the process. While the less-than-polished voices of some of the other castmembers may make the film more accessible to some viewers, his voice may have audiences jamming popcorn in their ears.
Thankfully, he’s paired with one of the most inexhaustibly talented actresses working today (or ever, really), Meryl Streep. Streep’s Donna is so wholly fleshed-out and so wonderfully, keenly, authentically realized that while you’re perfectly aware that it’s Meryl Streep playing the part, you won’t even recognize her in it. And although the movie is packed with passable-to-delightful musical numbers of various sizes and scopes, when Donna sings “Winner Takes It All” in what is practically a single take on the top of a hill, I dare you not to get goosebumps. She owns this role, and she sells it to us wholesale.

So let’s get to the big question here: Why is AfterElton.com covering Mamma Mia! In the first place? I mean, okay, it’s a musical. And yes, the gays do love their Swedish pop. But that’s not the half of it.

I’m going to wander into spoilery territory for those who aren’t familiar with the stage show … so if you don’t want to have a minor (though majorly gay) twist ruined, you may want to take my simple advice to take your Mamma out to see this bit of summer lovin’ and stop reading now.

When the question of Sophie’s paternity comes to a head, it’s less surprising to the audience than to anyone in the film that Harry (Colin Firth) is now an out gay man, and he tells Donna that she was both the first and the last woman that he ever loved.

This also happens in the play, but in the movie the filmmakers take the character one step further by also giving him an adorable Greek boyfriend (for the weekend, at least!) and having the two men dance together and even embrace shirtless at the reception. (There’s a whole development involving an exploding fountain – don’t ask – so pretty much everyone’s half-nude by that point.)

It’s great that Mamma lets Harry find love at the wedding, and even better that it’s treated like absolutely no big deal whatsoever to anyone. In fact, the moment is delivered in the spirit of such joy that the audience I saw the film with (which wasn’t a gay audience by any means) went “Awwwww….” in unison. It’s quite sweet, and it’s encouraging to think of how many people will see the film and experience the coming out of a lovable main character without a hint of stigma, shame, or negative reaction from anyone.

Harry (formerly “Hard Rock Harry”, which sets up some great gags when we see Firth as his punk rocker younger self in flashbacks) also has a very sweet moment with Bill when the two have a sort of Three’s Company-style “misunderstanding” conversation on Bill’s boat. Harry’s trying to come clean to Bill about the fact that he may be Sophie’s father, but Bill thinks he’s coming out to him as gay, and is wonderfully supportive. (It also doesn’t hurt that moments later, when the two are interrupted by Julie Walters, we get a punchline shot of Bill’s buns.)

Mamma Mia!’s treatment of its gay character is perfectly in line with the overarching themes of love and friendship that make the movie so irresistible. While the movie may feel slapdash or messy to some, I loved the casual vibe, which made me want to hop the next flight to Greece with Streep, Firth, Seyfried (who is delightful) and the rest of the cast in tow. And considering that I’m really not the target audience here (being that it’s a story about mothers and daughters and middle-aged single women more than anything else) and I still walked out with a smile on my face, the filmmakers did right by me.

So if you’re looking for a breezy break from the summertime heat, definitely give this one a shot. And if it’s an option, take your Mamma. She’ll love it.

Da AfterElton.com

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