The film, based on the successful stage musical set to the songs of ABBA, basks in both the Greek summer sun and the radiant presence that is Meryl Streep, who stars as Donna Sheridan, a singing, dancing, acrobatic, and courageous single mother.
Donna, a former hippie-dippie girl-band singer, has raised her gorgeous daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) on a gorgeous Greek island, running a small hotel. Now, breaking with family tradition, Sophie is marrying cutie Sky (Dominic Cooper). Among the invited guests are Rosie (Julie Walters) and Tanya (Christine Baranski), Donna's former back-up girls. And unbeknownst to Mamma, Sophie has also invited Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), Harry (Colin Firth), and Sam (Pierce Brosnan), three guys whom Donna slept with 20 years ago -- any one of whom might be Sophie's dad.
With the familiar ABBA songs (including "Dancing Queen," "Lay All Your Love on Me," and "Take a Chance On Me,") shoehorned into dramatic places where they more or less make sense, the musical has long been considered the equivalent of theatrical mac and cheese, heavy on the cheese.
But the same quartet responsible for the so-so stage production, writer Catherine Johnson, director Phyllida Lloyd, choreographer Anthony Van Laast, and producer Judy Craymer, have outdone themselves here. In opening up the play, they've splashed every number with so much sunlight and scenery that you will want to call Olympic Airways from your movie seat to book the next flight to Mykonos.
That Streep can sing well is no surprise to those who saw her on stage in Brecht's Happy End or on screen in Postcards from the Edge and A Prairie Home Companion. But here, she's nothing short of sensational. And if they gave Oscars for enjoying oneself, Streep would be the winner; while Baranski and Walters would certainly be nominated. Although I found Walters a tad too matronly at first, by the final credits -- and do not miss the final credits! --she'd convinced me that the role of Rosie was written for her.
The guys -- definitely not song and dance men -- seem less comfortable being in a musical. Brosnan's "SOS" could have used a bit of help, while Firth is the best singer of the lot. Nonetheless, they all look adorable, both in present day and in flashback photos with long hair and Elliot Gould mustaches. As for Seyfried, she looks more like Goldie Hawn's daughter than Streep's. But why quibble?
Most of the subsidiary roles (and there are dozens) are sung and danced by members of the show's various International stage productions. Like randy Greek mountain goats, they bound up and down the island, especially during the pre-wedding party numbers. And just like the old woman who drops her bundle of wood to join the other women during the title number, you'll have no choice but to give in to Mamma Mia!