|From left, Christine Baranski, Meryl Streep and Julie Walters in "Mamma Mia!"|
Musicals are bonkers, Mamma Mia! perhaps more than most. It has an Italian title but is set in Greece and it centres on songs written by a pair of Swedes. But we aren’t allowed to care about that.
Meryl Streep plays a single mum who is the impoverished owner of a dilapidated island taverna, about to celebrate the wedding of her only daughter. This daughter (Amanda Seyfried) wants her dad to take her down the aisle but because Meryl was once the island bike she doesn’t know who the father is.
Anyway, the daughter invites all the possible candidates (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård), while her mum invites her two best friends (Julie Walters and Christine Baranski) for a bit of (im)moral support.
Throw in a groom, bridesmaids, a vicar and a chorus of picturesque Greeks and you have an awful lot of people who need to say exactly the right thing at exactly the right time in order to have just the right excuse to break into the right song, which is barely in English anyway. It should be beyond bonkers. It should be a mess.
It isn’t. They’ll probably revoke my membership of the Straight Men’s Sneering Association for this, but Mamma Mia! is actually rather wonderful. It is sharp, hilarious and so beautifully shot that you can almost smell the Ambre Solaire.
Streep slams wonky, wooden shutters and leads her mob of bridesmaids, ageing sluts and lumpy Greek peasant women on a rampage through that sleepy village like a sun-kissed, middle-aged parody of Cyndi Lauper.
Walters cackles away like the old pro she is, and even though Colin Firth is in full Bridget Jones awkward mode, you never properly want to beat him to death with an oar.
Streep is the real star here, and she does serious acting, too, investing a cliff-top rendition of The Winner Takes It All with far more teary gravitas than should be possible for a song that contains the line: “I figured it made sense/ building me a fence”.
Brosnan, meanwhile, is at his funniest and most unBondish. Bless him, but the man cannot sing at all. It’s not that he can’t hold a tune, exactly, more that you can really hear him trying. I hope he is in on the joke.
Maybe it is the mature cast that makes Mamma Mia! work so well. The film is hectic but relaxed. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. Every act of breaking into song is a gag and every dance move an undignified scramble.
In the right sort of way, it is also gloriously subversive. Three sexual partners in a week is a bit of a laugh and the older a woman gets, the more likely she is to drink, leer and lust.
With the exception of Baranski’s rather gruesome duet with a young barman on Does Your Mother Know? the film is almost completely without campery. For a musical full of Abba songs, that is truly remarkable.
There is, however, an important caveat to make here before I get carried away, and that is to admit that I saw this film in a little screening room in Soho. In your average multiplex you’ll have people twirling and singing along, which may, if you are of a certain bent, spur you to murder.
But even so, if you can resist a smile as 30 muscular chaps in tiny Speedos and huge Technicolor flippers bop away to Dancing Queen on a rickety Greek pier, then you are a straighter, even more sneering man than I ever was.
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd; written by Catherine Johnson, based on the original musical book by Ms. Johnson, originally conceived by Judy Craymer based on the songs of Abba; director of photography, Haris Zambarloukos; edited by Lesley Walker; music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, some songs with Stig Anderson; choreographer, Anthony Van Laast; production designer, Maria Djurkovic; produced by Ms. Craymer and Gary Goetzman; released by Universal Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 48 minutes.
WITH: Meryl Streep (Donna), Pierce Brosnan (Sam), Colin Firth (Harry), Stellan Skarsgard (Bill), Julie Walters (Rosie), Dominic Cooper (Sky), Amanda Seyfried (Sophie) and Christine Baranski (Tanya).
From: Times Online, 2008