Published July 13, Philippine Daily Inquirer-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit
The movie musical “Mamma Mia!” pushes buttons of nostalgia even when the film’s narrative falters from time to time.
The simple tale that had to be stretched and made complicated manages to entertain with giddy performances from its all-star cast.
Based on the top-grossing and Tony-nominated stage musical of the same title, “Mamma Mia!” features the chart-topping hits of Swedish pop group ABBA, lovingly rendered by Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Julie Walters, among others. The songs fittingly create a bigger tapestry that acts as a flowing, breezy soundtrack, upon which a charming story about parents, daughters and independence is formed.
Streep can do no wrong and ABBA’s body of work is classic--and surprisingly relevant.
The lyrics actually comfortably fit the wedding jitters and jubilation of single mom Donna (Streep), whose dutiful daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is set to tie the knot. Unknown to mom, Sophie’s invited to the fete three men mentioned in an old, forgotten journal. One of the three is Sophie’s dad, but nobody knows who, not even Donna.
Donna’s promiscuity is satirized a few times (but not the unprotected sex angle, oddly), in not-so-snappy banter and some cute song and dance numbers. Her former lovers (Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard and Firth) drop everything to attend Sophie’s wedding, set in the picturesque Greek isle that they all remember fondly.
Donna’s close friends and former bandmates (Julie Walters and Christine Baranski) also drop by for this special occasion, the reunion allowing them to perform several ABBA-fueled girl-power anthems.
“Mamma Mia!” reunites the original musical’s director and writer, Phyllida Lloyd and Catherine Johnson. ABBA’s artistry as the musical and movie’s source of inspiration speaks of its timeless pop hooks and universal appeal. They also have a funkiness and oddball quality too; each song inherently inspires a wealth of imagery. Too bad the movie doesn’t always capture the sense of grandiosity, liberation or adventure.
Not that it always has to be grand. Lighter numbers “Slipping Through My Fingers” and “Chiquitita” are handled well, their essence captured convincingly. However, an exceptionally heartfelt performance, Streep’s “The Winner Takes It All,” starts amazingly, but it’s soon hampered by static camera shots and choppy editing. Some numbers have uneven, uninteresting choreography, and are bridged by inane dialogue.
There are enjoyable moments nevertheless, including Walters’ heady version of “Take a Chance on Me,” Brosnan’s funny, quivery take on “S.O.S.” and of course, Streep’s impassioned rendition of “Mamma Mia.”
There are parts that should’ve been shortened or removed altogether. But “Mamma Mia!” as a feel-good movie tries to make up for a lack of sturdiness and flamboyance, and succeeds to some degree. If you take a chance on it, you’ll soon find yourself thanking ABBA for the music.