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Movie Review: MAMMA MIA! (Universal, Rated PG-13 ****)

July 19, 2008

Let me take you back in time to some of my earlier childhood memories.  I can recall how my Saturday mornings used to start when I was growing up in the 1970s.  My parents’ radio would go off, and we’d be hearing the popular music of the day carrying through the upstairs bedrooms.  Without fail, they’d play one of ABBA’s many hit songs.  You could almost set your watch by it.  If it wasn’t HONEY HONEY, it was DOES YOUR MOTHER KNOW, or, if I was REALLY lucky it was MAMMA MIA.  And that was just Saturday morning.  Every once in a while, we’d get in the car and visit some friends of my parents in Rehoboth MA.  Either on the way to Rehoboth or on the way back, I’d be treated to DANCING QUEEN.  ABBA’s music quickly became an essential part of my childhood soundtrack.  And I loved it then as I love it now.  I’ve yet to hear ANY group that can even come close to Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus’s technique.

25 years later these great songs were put into a stage musical with MAMMA MIA as the title.  I bought the cast album when it became available, and liked what I heard.  Benny and Bjorn managed to get this cast of musical theater actors to match the original sound almost perfectly.  About a year later, I found myself in the front row of the Winter Garden theater to see this megahit musical for myself.  I had a blast!  I laughed all the way through, when I wasn’t laughing, I found myself thoroughly engaged in the story, and even emotionally involved.  In short, it was a perfect theater-going experience for me, especially since this was about 6 or 7 weeks after the tragedy of 9/11.  To top it off, Karen Mason, who played the role of Tanya posed for a picture with me for Broadway Cares.  I still have this picture 7 years later, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Now it’s a movie with Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan.  And I will say right here and now that I left the movie theater with the same high and big smile on my face that I left the Winter Garden with.  Let me also say this, I get that the marketing strategy is being geared towards the female market, after all, the two lead characters are a mother and daughter.  But guys, do NOT let that stop YOU from buying a ticket.  This movie really is about family, and discovering and accepting and knowing who you are and where you come from.  What’s more, the male characters are well-defined and are not portrayed as negative stereotypes that some TV commercials can’t seem to let go of.

For those of you who do not know the story, here it is.  Sophie (Amanda Seyfried is about to be married to her fiancé Sky (Dominic Cooper) at the inn her mother owns on an island off of Greece.  There’s only one small problem:  Sophie wants her dad to give her away, but she doesn’t know who her dad is.  That is, she doesn’t know until she starts reading Mom’s diary, and discovers that her dad is one of three men:  Bill Anderson (Stellan Skarsgard excuse the lack of proper punctuation over the final “a”), Sam Carmichael (Brosnan), and Harry Bright (Colin Firth).  Sophie reasons that if she sees these men, she’ll know her real dad right away, so, unbeknownst to her mother, Sophie invites all three to the island for the wedding.  Also arriving on the island are the two best friends of Sophie’s mother Donna (Streep).  Tanya (Christine Barabnski) is on the rebound from her fourth marriage, and Rosie (Julie Walters) is just looking for a fun time and a possible companion.  The sparks begin to fly when Donna discovers the men on the island despite Sophie’s efforts to keep the whole plan a secret, even from Sky.  Donna wants them gone, but Sophie insists that they remain.  Things get even more complicated when all three men put two and two together, almost at the same time.  But fear not, readers, i can safely tell you without giving anything away that it does come out right in the end.

I can always tell when a cast is having a good time with the movie they’re making.  The cast of MAMMA MIA is not just having a good time, they’re having a non-stop party!  Getting to sing ABBA’s music is fun enough, for us fans anyway, but getting to sing this music on an absolutely stunning Mediterranean island is nothing short of a dream come true.  The shots of the island and surrounding waters were enough to keep me cool in the middle of the current heat wave here in the Northeast.  And I’m sure there were outtakes a plenty where the cast broke each other up on camera, can’t wait to see those on the DVD.  Also on the plus side was the fact that practically the entire creative staff from the stage version was involved in the movie.  When that happens, you know they’re going to do their darndest to stay true to the stage version, and they do a very good job.  Yes, songs from the stage version have been lost or moved, or used only as underscoring, but again, that’s what DVD’s can do, give you those missing moments that you might be missing.  So, if you’re feeling down in the dumps, here’s Dr. Andy’s prescription:  Buy a ticket to MAMMA MIA, sit back with your snacks and drinks, and just let yourself go for two hours, you’ll feel so much better.  And be sure to stick around-it doesn’t necessarily end when you think it does!

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2 comments

  1. this is one of the few plays i’ve actually seen, which ended up being great… it’s funny to think of ol’ Pierce taking a stab at singing, yeeesh


  2. Glad you enjoyed it! I must be one of the few people that thought that Pierce actually did well with his singing, then again, I’m not the world’s greatest vocalist myself…



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