Sam, Bill or Harry? (Mamma Mia)
Mama sorts them out
ABBA was never as big in benighted
Let’s not get too persnickety or unwilling to suspend
disbelief. Classic operas have been built from thinner concepts, as have many
beloved musicals from
Mamma Mia! is as enjoyable as any recent contender and like any good song and dance picture from the 1940s and ’50s, is soaked in bright color and brighter melodies. It boasts an enviable cast. Starring as Donna, Sophie’s mom with a wild past, Meryl Streep proves game at motherhood and business. Streep is slumming but having a good time. Donna owns a charmingly rundown villa-resort on a remote Greek island, set like a sun-dazzled diamond on the wine dark sea. The scenery is almost worth the ticket price. OK, the rental once it’s released on DVD.
Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard and Colin Firth play the trio of long-ago boyfriends and presumptive fathers, Sam, Bill and Harry. The personality chasms separating these three men are wide enough to be funny (though the script doesn’t exploit this as well as it could) and makes one wonder about the catholicity of mom’s tastes. Brosnan, Skarsgard and Firth appear as comfortable in their light roles and just as willing as Streep to burst into ABBA songs. It must be said that the original recordings were better. Those chilly Nordic harmonies captured the vibe with greater aptitude than the uncertain voices of the cast.The screenplay includes anachronistic allusions to “flower power” and Sid Vicious, as if Donovan and the Sex Pistols shared the same cultural moment; photos of the three boyfriends from 20 years earlier make them look for no good reason like a Spinal Tap tribute band. Mamma Mia! is helmed by its stage director, Phyllida Lloyd, who nails the silly theatrical exuberance without a thought of cinematic grandeur. Mamma Mia! probably won’t be cited alongside Singing in the Rain or Moulin Rouge. It’s not epochal but merely a bubbly two-hour summer vacation to a comical, nostalgic world beyond the reach of high gas prices, credit card debt, failed mortgages and the uncertain future of the world. Maybe that’s as good as it gets in the summer of 2008.