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If you prefer your filmic escapes flooded with sunshine and happiness, Mamma Mia! froths over with both. This faithful big-screen adaptation of the stage musical—directed by the original Broadway show’s Phyllida Lloyd—is a suitable alternative for those who not only prefer their ABBA affordable but also accompanied by movie stars and on-location scenery instead of theater no-names and worn touring set pieces. Of course, you could also listen to a greatest-hits CD with nearly the same result.
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Mamma Mia! is little more than a string of ABBA tunes with a story wedged in about a 20-year-old bride, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), who’s about to be married at the Greek inn owned by her mother, Donna (Meryl Streep). Sophie doesn’t know who her dad is, but when she reads Donna’s journal and discovers that the former disco queen had three dalliances the year she was born, she invites all three men to the ceremony: Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), an adventurer; Harry (Colin Firth), a cautious accountant; and Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Donna’s true love who got away. Also on the guest list are Donna’s former girl-group-mates, cougar poster-woman Tanya (Christine Baranski) and “lone wolf” Rosie (Julie Walters), as well as Sophie’s friends and an island’s worth of employees, the better to populate impromptu dance parties.
The gorgeous Greek scenery, with sun flooding even indoor shots and water too blue to wrap your mind around, is by far the best part of the film. Runners-up include Streep, who largely needed only to show up to nail her part as the flaky-but-loving bohemian mom but will also silence popcorn munchers with her improbably emotive, rafters-hitting version of “The Winner Takes It All,” and Seyfried, whose strong voice, wide-eyed prettiness, and sweet charm make her a presence as lovely as the location. Skarsgård is rather likable in this atypical role as well.
The movie goes downhill from there, particularly bottoming out whenever Brosnan tries to sing (it’s beyond awful) or the script goes sitcom (Walters’ Rosie is particularly grating as squat, nerdly comic relief). It’s likely, though, that Mamma Mia!’s intended audience will be too buoyed by its relentless feel-goodness to notice such quibbles, while, to musical- and ABBA-haters, the film will act like garlic to vampires no matter how numerous its pluses.