Mamma Mia! Review
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Last year, I was singing the praises of Broadway musical turned big-screen delight, Hairspray. The irreverently entertaining song-and-dance movie even turned out to be one of my favorites of the year. So as I sat down to see this summer’s big musical, Mamma Mia!, I expected more of the same.

But, alas, Mamma Mia! is no Hairspray.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the musical, Mamma Mia! was inspired by (and filled with) the songs of Swedish pop quartet ABBA. The story follows 20-year-old Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) as she prepares for her wedding day. While most brides-to-be spend those last days fretting about menus and fittings, Sophie’s got a much bigger problem: her dad has arrived, and her mom, Donna (Meryl Streep), isn’t supposed to know. To make matters worse, Sophie’s not exactly sure who her dad is.

  
 
Months before her wedding, Sophie found her mother’s old diary and discovered that her dad could be one of three men: Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), or Harry (Colin Firth). Desperate to have her father give her away, Sophie secretly invites all three men to the Greek island where she’s getting married, convinced that she’ll know her father when she sees him. But, well, she doesn’t. And while she tries to figure out what to do with three would-be dads, her mother is flooded by old memories.

In making Mamma Mia!, director Phyllida Lloyd seems to have let her cast run wild—and the result is a pretty wacky mess. In the beginning, as Sophie and Donna’s closest gal-pals arrive on the island, I feared that I was in for a Sex and the City-style shriekfest. Fortunately, the shrieking eventually dies down—but the over-the-top goofiness continues. What follows is, for the most part, a strange musical middle-aged slumber party. Donna writhes on a rooftop singing “Mamma Mia” right before her goofy, slapsticky pals (Julie Walters and Christine Baranski) are forced to coax their sobbing friend out of a bathroom stall by singing “Chiquitita.” Then they all rush to the waterfront singing “Dancing Queen” while miscellaneous Greek villagers break away from their daily grind to sing along.

While I’m sure that the cast had a heck of a lot of fun making these wacky song-and-dance scenes, I think you just had to be there—because, for those watching from their theater seats, they just feel silly and overdone and…theatrical. The songs often feel forced and out of place. And while every cast member gets an A for effort for their singing, some are fantastic (like Seyfried) while others (like Brosnan) should never, ever try to sing again. (Ever.)

I realize that it may seem contradictory for me to praise the wackiness in Hairspray and blast it in Mamma Mia!. But while the former kept its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, the latter can’t seem to make up its mind—and it flounders between silly and super-serious. That’s like making a serious drama and casting John Travolta as a fat woman—it just ends up feeling like a goofy, disjointed mess.

Granted, Mamma Mia! does have some great moments. There are times, in fact, when it’s a whole lot of fun. But there are even more times when it’s awkward and uncomfortable. So unless you’re a huge ABBA fan, there are better ways to spend your weekend. If you’re looking for a fun musical, rent Hairspray. Or, if you’re looking for a light-hearted story about middle-aged women, rent Calendar Girls. And if you really feel the need, just play ABBA Gold in the background.


DVD Review:
After making my way through the features on the two-disc special edition release of Mamma Mia!, I think I’ve finally found the source of the film’s wackiness: ouzo.

This collection of features makes it even more obvious that the cast (and the crew, too) had an absolutely fantastic time making the movie. Though some of the extras show the challenges involved (especially when it came to teaching a bunch of actors to sing and dance), the film’s spirit of silliness still comes shining through—and, this time, that’s actually a good thing. Throughout almost every one of the extras—from the three-part making-of feature to the features on the film’s music, choreography, and locations—it’s as if there’s a laugh track constantly playing in the background. The energy is infectious—and it’ll make you wish you’d been there with them, singing and dancing on the beach in Greece. In fact, while the movie made me feel like I was on the outside of an inside joke, the features finally seem to let the audience in on the jokes—especially in extras like Behind the Scenes with Amanda, a four-minute feature that follows the film’s young star as she eats, drinks, and worries about leprosy.

So if you enjoyed the silliness of Mamma Mia!, you won’t want to miss the special edition DVD—because it only adds to the movie’s fun.

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