I approached 'Mamma Mia - The Movie', with some trepidation. It had been hailed as the 'feel good' movie of last summer in its advertising and whenever I'd seen this kind of hype before, I'd largely ended up disappointed. I hadn't seen the West End stage show and, while I was a teenager in the 1970's, I'd never been all that impressed by the music of Abba - far less able to understand how it would hold the interest of a modern day cinema going audience. How would today's teenagers accept music that was usually the butt of spotty youth jokes? How would I enjoy it? Surely it was a 'chick flick'. How would top ranking, non-singing actors like Meryl Streep, Julie Walters & Pierce Brosnan escape with their reputations intact from largely singing roles?
I guess the above concerns explain my enormous relief to be able to report that I thoroughly enjoyed 'Mamma Mia' from the very first frame right through to the very last. The fact that I had a smile on my face for most of the movie would be inexplicable, but for the fact that this film is the perfect antidote to a cold, miserable, recession suffering UK.
The Abba songs are seamlessly interwoven with the storyline, simple though it may be. A young girl (Amanda Seyfried) has grown up with her mother (Meryl Streep) on a Greek island not knowing who her father is, all of her life. She's about to be married, so invites the three likely suspects (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth & Stellan Skarsgaard) to the wedding - unbeknown to her mother. Her mother's two crazy friends (Christine Baranski & Julie Walters) who were part of her singing group, Donna & The Dynamos, are on hand to provide support and generally add to the melee. Add to this the warm Greek sun, some excellent photography and a bit of over the top 'Grease' style choreography and you have the formula for a truly joyous experience.
The cynics among us might trendily curl a lip and say that it is nothing like real life - but that's not what this movie is about. It's about sitting back, relaxing, letting the experience lift your spirits and leaving the movie feeling better than you did beforehand. We all need that, at least some of the time.
It's also a great relief to report that the stars survive the singing ordeal rather well. Meryl Streep is a revelation and her gutsy voice carries many of the musical numbers with great confidence. Colin Firth does surprisingly well and I still can't get his opening lines of 'Our Last Summer' out of my head. Pierce Brosnan steamrollers his way through his songs with amazing commitment and professionalism, avoiding letting the team down. Best of all, however, is newcomer Amanda Seyfried with her warm, sweet sounding voice. The comedic talents of Christine Baranski and Julie Walters are used to good effect. In lesser hands, some of the numbers may have been cringe worthy, but it's all handled with consistent good humour. The close harmony between Streep, Baranski & Walters works well - occasionally, deliberately, being a bit shaky to help portray a singing group who haven't performed together for a long time as the storyline demands.
I haven't let out such a big guffaw of laughter in years as I did when the three male leads appeared in spangled jump suits to ham it up with such great largesse during the 'Waterloo' number near the end.
The film evokes real emotion too. I had a lump in my throat when Meryl Streep's character is remembering the 'funny little girl' she brought up on her own - singing 'Slipping through my fingers' - just before the wedding. So many films nowadays are cold and out of touch with human emotions. Okay, so I cry at the end of 'It's a Wonderful Life' and when Jimmy Cagney goes to the chair in 'Angels with Dirty Faces'. Any movie that can command so much audience involvement without making them feel that someone is callously mucking about with their heartstrings is doing something right.
First time movie director, Phyllida Lloyd has done a first rate job of producing a real crowd pleaser - so forget the critics. What do they know? It's bums on seats that matter.
All in all, I felt that 'Mamma Mia-The Movie' lived up to its PR hype and was a magnificent 'tour de force' for all involved. If it can persuade a non 'Abba-phile' to get the original soundtrack album a few days after watching the movie and even sing along with the songs then it has had a lasting effect.
Treat yourself. You won't be disappointed.
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