Combustible Celluloid
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With: Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsg�rd, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, Dominic Cooper, Rachel McDowall, Ashley Lilley
Written by: Catherine Johnson
Directed by: Phyllida Lloyd
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sex-related comments
Running Time: 108
Date: 06/30/2008

Mamma Mia! (2008)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Abba Dabbling

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

On the verge of her wedding, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) invites three men to stay at her family's hotel on a gorgeous Greek Island, all of whom slept with her mom, Donna (Meryl Streep), and any of whom could be her real father. Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgård and Colin Firth play the men, while Christine Baranski and Julie Walters play Donna's pals. Every so often, one of them breaks into song, warbling classic ABBA tunes. I actually like quite a few of ABBA's songs; at best, they're expertly crafted and supremely catchy bubblegum. But Phyllida Lloyd's new film adaptation of the hit Broadway show is anything but expertly crafted. In the old days, Hollywood studios would groom stars and give them singing and dancing lessons, resulting in highly polished musicals with a happy sheen. Nowadays, the trend is to cast whoever is available from the "A" list, humiliate them, and then congratulate them for being a good sport (see Hairspray). But whether or not Brosnan or Baranski can sing is really beside the point; their spunk and spirit could carry off a better film. No, the point is that Lloyd's film has no shape or tone; it swings wildly from sunny, haphazard scenes that play like outtakes, to higher-pitched, shrieking, hysterical scenes. The musical numbers ramble sloppily, with an annoying "Greek chorus" popping up for comic relief. (However, one number, using "Gimme Gimme Gimme," actually works rather well in a kind of writhing, fiery sense.) The actors appear to be having a good time and the island is quite beautiful, but that sense of sunny fun doesn't translate to this filmic mess. However, Streep elevates the film to another level entirely. She's a master performer of such astonishing magnitude that you can practically feel life surging into the film during her scenes. She sings "Mamma Mia" and makes it soar, and she sings "The Winner Takes It All" and makes it cry. Best of all, she makes herself lovable; it makes sense that these three men would chase her. Whereas the other performers may as well be winking at the camera, Streep actually lives inside this story; it's another Oscar-worthy performance from arguably our greatest living actor.

DVD Details: Universal's two-disc set comes with a commentary track by director Lloyd, optional subtitles, and the "sing-a-long" subtitles, which light up as each word is sung. There's also a dull deleted musical number ("The Name of the Game"). Disc two comes with outtakes, deleted scenes (about 8 minutes), half a dozen featurettes and music videos, with optional subtitles. A digital copy of the film (compatible with both Mac and PC) is included.

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