Mamma Mia! Here we go again. My, my
Review by Margie Peters
I’ve never ever been an ABBA fan, though I admit I bounced my foot and hummed along to their mostly intelligible lyrics when they were all over the radio during the ‘80s. I think I kind of fell for their music the first time I saw “Muriel’s Wedding” which came out in 1994 starring the then-barely known Aussie actresses Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths. If you haven’t Muriel’s Wedding, you must. Today. Before you go see Mamma Mia. In fact, I kind of wish I was reviewing Muriel’s Wedding, which says soooo much about women, our friendships, our choices, our self-worth, facing cancer and claiming our power, which Mamma Mia only waves at in the most sit-commy, tacked-on and ham-handed way to give it the illusion of substance. (I’m the grandmother of an eight-year-old girl who has sat, with that girl, through High School: the Musical many, many, too many times. As fluffy as that musical is, it had more true substance than Mamma Mia.)
With all this having been said, I know you want to see the movie. I know you have been waiting to see the movie. And I say, go! And enjoy! There’s lots and lots to enjoy.
Let’s start with the Greek Isle where our players assemble for the wedding of Sophia and Sky. The island is spectacular, with craggy cliffs and diamond-twinkly sea. Everyone (except the Greek Chorus) is sun-kissed and gorgeous. I’m sure travel to Greece will be on the upswing. I’m checking out my AAadvantage miles as I type.
Then, there is the pure pleasure of seeing three women of MY age (more or less) owning the screen. Meryl Streep plays Donna, mother-of-the-bride and long-ago leader of a girl group that included back-up singers Rosie, played by Julie Walters, and Tanya, perfectly Vogued by Christine Baranski.
Meryl Streep has never looked more gorgeous, whether she’s wearing post-hippie era overalls and wielding a cordless drill (and insisting she hasn’t “got any” lately and is “so glad that whole part of my life is over”) or Greek peasant garb, laughing, crying, pulling on her fabulously long hair extensions. Gorgeous, gorgeous and did I mention, gorgeous. And, for a brilliant actress, she’s an okay singer. She acts the song “The Winner Takes It All” with heart and soul, and we see how much losing the love of her life has meant to her. Her rendition of the song felt like a Shakespearean soliloquy.
Then there’s the always spectacular Julie Walters, most recently known to the wider film-going world for her portrayal of the wonderful Molly Weasley in the Harry Potter movies. (See her in one of her first films, Educating Rita, with Michael Caine and check out her voluminous credits on IMDB.com). Though she is stuck (along with most of the other players) with a character who is this-close to being a cartoon, she does it with such commitment and joy that you can’t help but love her. And her real-life avowal to never her face or body cranked gives her bonus points.
And finally we have Christine Baranski, playing her usual role as the much- married, cocktail guzzling, self-centered almost-slut with a heart of gold. (See her in old Cybil reruns and as the ex-wife in Birdcage.) Baranski generously sets up Walters with the movie’s best line when she says to all grown up bride Sophie, “You probably don’t recognize me.” Walters pipes up, “Not with all that plastic surgery.”
The deepest the interplay among the three boon companions gets is when they ponder the question, “Do we all sound like our mothers?” which leads them dancing through the olive orchard singing Dancing Queen. The women all acquit themselves well despite their Thumbalina’s-bathtub-deep emotional cores. Shoot, they are three of the best, the best of the best.
And the men are no slouches either and have as little to work with, character-wise, as the women. We have Stellan Skarsgård, Colin Firth and Pierce Brosnan – I mean, what eye-candy for the over 40 set – as potential fathers for Sophie, who invites the three men to her wedding unbeknownst to her mother, Donna. And coincidence of coincidences, they all meet up and arrive together. Brosnan carries the load for the men on the singing front, and he and his reedy voice are earnest and totally committed. He’s charming and I found myself rooting for him even when I wasn’t sure I should be.
The bride to be, Sophie, played by Amanda Seyfried is adorable, charming and did I mention adorable? (Clearly, she takes after her mother.) Her fiance, Sky, played by Dominic Cooper, is also adorable and charming and steadfast. The Greek Chorus, played like a Sophoclean Greek Chorus, sings background and makes asides throughout the movie, and does a mean kickline at the bachelor/bachelorette party.
You know, it’s interesting. . .this summer, two female-of-a-certain-age driven films have been released – Mamma Mia and Sex and the City. That this has happened is somewhat miraculous. The Hollywood braintrust doesn’t think women can “open movies and bring in the bucks. They did not think SITC would generate the kind of box office it very clearly has. I think they will be surprised all over again at how well Mamma Mia will do. They still don’t get it – that we need to see ourselves on the big screen and that we’ll pay money to do so. And that we’ve got our own purse-strings and the power to pull them. Maybe now, they’ll get the message.
So, here’s the bottom line: The hoopla and singing/dancing magic seemed forced and false; the singing was nowhere even close to the originals in power and fun; the story was pure baloney. And still, there was a charm, a joie de vivre and a happy ending for all. My recommendation is this: Support the miracle. (Be glad you’re not spending $70 – 125 for theatre tickets to see the play.)
Go see Mamma Mia with a few girlfriends or your daughters or your daughters-in-law. Buy a big bucket of popcorn (without butter flavor) and a tank of Diet Coke. Laugh and have fun. Identify with Donna’s angst at facing her past and letting her baby go and remember the good-old-bad-old days of platform heels and headbands. Go out afterward and talk about the film. Just make it a half-price matinee and a lunchy thing. In this economy, Mamma Mia is ultra-light fare and will not fully satisfy or fill you up.
Margie Peters is a retired Hollywood writer and taught a college course on the history of American film.