(Best sung to ABBA’s “SOS”; there be spoilers)
When Sophie plans to wed, she wants to meet her dad,
But from what she has read, her mom loved a triad.
So she invites the trio there,
To their hotel in Greece.
Sam, Bill, and Harry show; will wonders never cease?
When Donna meets her lovers there, it eats her.
What a mess!
Though they intrigue her, Sophie isn’t eager
And the beaus play it close to the vest.
To sightsee with all three of the guys.
The wedding closer draws, and she is still unsure
Which of the three it was that really fathered her.
As all three come to know the truth
And Sophie’s plans collapse,
Old griefs and tensions rise that once were under wraps.
With Sophie’s wedding, things come to a heading.
No more stress!
With all the bother, why choose just one father?
Take a guess!
It is not who we thought would be wed.
And the throng
Celebrates and hydrates with a song!
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for sexual dialogue)
It’s been a while since I let my VC pick a movie (although Flash Gordon was sort of hers) so I finally let her talk me into seeing Mamma Mia! again. There are so many fantastic musicals out there, and then there are those in which the plot is so flimsy that it only serves as a framework for musical numbers. Mamma Mia! definitely fits into the latter category, stringing together a number of 1970s hits amid a convoluted and loose-moralled story of uncertain identity. The catch is that this is all it tries to be, and it does it very well.
Let’s start with the plot. After reading her mother Donna’s youthful diary, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) discovers that her father is one of three men who hooked up with Donna (Meryl Streep) about twenty years ago, all around the same time. Since Sophie is soon to be married, she wants her real father to walk her down the aisle and so invites all three to the Greek island where she lives. What could possibly go wrong? This setup is implausible and more than a little silly, and it goes nowhere fast as Sophie and Donna are both frazzled, while little side-plots with their friends chip away at ABBA’s discography.
But, as I said, the plot is secondary to the music, and there’s no shortage of great ABBA songs. While I was aware of the Swedish pop quartet before this movie, the only songs I associated with them were “Dancing Queen” and “Super Trouper,” but there are far more memorable tunes than I had given them credit for. Some I’d heard but didn’t really know (“Honey, Honey,” “Our Last Summer”), and others I had never even encountered before (“Lay All Your Love on Me” and the title song “Mamma Mia”). The way that all these disparate pop songs are combined into a barely cohesive whole is rather impressive, and if anything, it introduces whippersnappers like me to an uber-band from the ‘70s that deserves to be remembered.
The other reason to see Mamma Mia! is the privilege(?) of seeing famous actors play against type. It’s no secret that Amanda Seyfried sings beautifully (Les Miserables), but who would expect Meryl Streep to belt out surprisingly good vocals while wearing overalls or in a duet with James Bond? Plus, Julie Walters and Stellan Skarsgard are entirely different in “wild-and-crazy-old-people” roles, Dominic Cooper sounds nothing like the MCU’s Howard Stark, and Colin Firth is a far cry from Mr. Darcy. These uncharacteristic castings are also a problem, though. As much as he tries, Pierce Brosnan is simply not a singer, and every song with Julie Walters is uncomfortably grating. In fact, Walters and Christine Baranski as Donna’s friends are consistently grating as two overly frisky cougars whose attempts at not being old aren’t exactly flattering.
As if that didn’t sound negative enough, I also take issue with the ending. Not to give away specifics, but the overall message that the finale pushes is that love is for everybody but marriage is just for old people. I may be old-fashioned (in fact, I know I am), but why does marriage always seem to come after the honeymoon in movies, if it comes at all? Sophie’s choice at the end implies that she didn’t learn very much from her mother’s mistakes.
With the last two negative paragraphs, I was planning on ranking Mamma Mia! as a dishonorable mention, but my VC’s fondness for it tipped the scales. She says that “yes, it’s immoral and silly and all, but I like it.” The music, the exotic Greek scenery, the choreography, the appeal of good actors having fun with roles that might have gone to has-beens – these are what she enjoys, and I can’t really say I disagree. The truth is that I do love the music, which should understandably be the star of a musical. ABBA’s songs make up for the film’s abundant flaws so that its groovy appeal still shines through.
Best line: (Sophie) “I want the perfect wedding, and I want my father to give me away.” (Ali, her friend) “Better be a wide aisle!”
Rank: Honorable Mention
© 2016 S. G. Liput
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