If I was to live in a musical, it would without a doubt be Mamma Mia! — a place where there are no Top 40 chart songs, no mobile phones, where a swimming costume is an undergarment; and where one can dance along a pier while waving a feather boa and singing ABBA songs before jumping into a clear, turquoise sea without feeling like a moron.
Twenty-year-old Sophie Sheridan (Amanda Seyfried) is about to be married, and wants her father to walk her down the aisle. However she has no idea who her father is, although she managed to narrow it down to three potential candidates after reading her mother Donna’s (Meryl Streep) diary that she kept during a summer of rather enthusiastic promiscuity.
Unknown to Donna, Sophie invites the three to her wedding. Harry Bright (Colin Firth), Sam Carmichael (Pierce Brosnan), and Bill Anderson (Stellan Skarsgard) arrive on the Greek island where twenty years ago they all shared happy memories of Donna, and unaware that Sophie may be their daughter.
For all it is Sophie’s wedding, it is Donna’s relationships with her three summer sweethearts that is by far the more emotionally involved story, perhaps due to the experience and calibre of the more mature cast. Sophie’s fiancée Sky, played by Dominic Cooper, seems more in love with himself than his bride-to-be, and looks and sings like a member of a boy band, and that is not meant as a compliment.
While the younger cast members have voices as polished and honed as the pop industry can produce, the elder thespians are not best known for their singing voices, but they try their best, bless them. I certainly wouldn’t mind Mr Darcy serenading me while playing guitar as we float idly in the Aegean seas in a nice sailing boat.
Brosnan sounds like a tone-deaf Joe Cocker, while Skarsgard seems to be talking rather than singing. None of that matters, however, as it is more rewarding to hear an untrained, unused, raw singing voice attempting songs far beyond its range, and they all fool around and have a ball while doing so.
Streep had by far the most impressive vocals. She carried the often challenging tunes wonderfully with her ethereal, clear voice made haggard by the demands of running a hotel that makes Fawlty Towers look like the Ritz. For all the light-heartedness of the musical, her acting still brought a tear to my eye, specifically in a moment after "Slipping Through My Fingers". Her rendition of “The Winner Takes It All” is the most haunting ever heard.
Julie Walters and Christine Baranski, as Donna’s backing singers of their former band The Dynamos, added the most comic relief as women of a certain age who still like to have fun. Walters’ advances on Bill while warbling through “Take A Chance On Me“, and Baranski’s rejection of a horny teenager to “Does Your Mother Know” were easily the most humorous set pieces in the entire movie.
Initially it is cringe-worthy and frankly rather weird to see Streep, Seyfried, and Cooper spontaneously burst into an ABBA song, but the energy and exuberance they bring to them is infectious. The music itself fits in with whatever it is set to, whether it be Brosnan getting in a cab in New York, or the camera panning up a small, hilly peninsula on top of which is set a small church. After this movie, which was filmed on the Greek islands of Skiathos and Skopelos, Sky will definitely get his wish of seeing more tourists come to the island.
Sondheim it ain’t, but Mamma Mia! is a fun, funny, feel-good movie, and worth the entry fee alone to see James Bond and Fitzwilliam Darcy singing famously camp songs. While nowadays ABBA songs are deemed as guilty pleasures, for the duration of the film, they are simply pleasures.