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MAMMA MIA! (article first published : 2008-08-31)

Yes, Mamma Mia! is cheesier than a chunk of feta and gooey and globby with as much sugar and schmaltz as you’re likely to find anywhere. Certainly, people who hate musicals and/or Abba should flee.

But if you’re a fan of all of the above – and, face it, precious few musicals aren’t high-calorie confections – you’re likely to be pasted with a silly grin and cheerfully shoulder-shrugging throughout this lightweight big-screen outing of one of the most successful stage musicals of recent years.

And if you’re a fan of the marvellous Meryl Streep, that’s another reason not to miss the film, which has been directed with flair and a great sense of fun by Phyllida Lloyd, who also directed the stage show.

Streep, an astonishingly gifted Oscar-winner, not only sings very well, but looks terrific (she turns 60 next June) and wraps so much emotion and credibility into the smallest of moments you can’t help but warm to her in a big way. She plays ebullient, single mom Donna, owner of a small hotel on a beautiful, rocky Greek coastline, where she is planning the wedding of her 20-year-old daughter, Sophie (Big Love’s Amanda Seyfried), to the handsome Sky (Dominic Cooper).

Unbeknown to mom, however, Sophie, who has never known who her father is, decides to invite three of Donna’s former beaus to the wedding – in the hope that she will discover one of them is her dad. They’re romantic Sam (Pierce Brosnan), adventurer Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and the posh and somewhat precious Harry (Colin Firth).

Also invited to the wedding are one-time-singer Donna’s fun-loving, former bandmates of yesteryear, the jovial Rosie (a highly amusing Julia Walters, always a delight) and plastic surgery fan Tanya (Christina Baranski, also great fun).

Not everything, of course, goes quite to plan in this frothy tale of love lost, found and reconsidered, all buoyant on a wave of Abba classics.

The hits include Super Trouper (Donna, Rosie and Tanya’s hen party entertainment, complete with gaudy bellbottoms and garish makeup), Dancing Queen (Donna and a parade of women, including wedding party help, frolicking on the beach) and Slipping Through My Fingers and The Winner Takes It All, both of which see Streep milking the most of emotive moments.

Other songs featured include Does Your Mother Know? (Baranski warding off a young barman trying to woo her), Honey, Honey (Sophie and friends discussing her wedding), Take a Chance on Me (Rosie looking for love) and Money, Money, Money (Donna and bill-collectors).

Ensure you stick around for the closing credits, where there’s a bonus of Waterloo, performed on stage by all principals in horrendous, spangly 70s gear.

Vocally just about all manage to get by and it’s clear everyone is having a good time, but Brosnan is the exception. His gravelly, bum notes on When All Is Said and Done and SOS, both sung with Streep, are, alas, not going to go down as career-defining moments.

With everyone tanned and in feel-good mode and the cinematography so lush, Greece Tourism should be paying half the film’s costs, Mamma Mia! proves an unpretentious, sunny, bubbly entertainment that’s the cinematic equivalent of a double-scoop ice-cream on a scorching day. Lick away and enjoy! (7/10) - Billy Suter




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