“What good is life without a song or a dance?” Amanda Seyfried sings during the closing credits for Mamma Mia! And I couldn’t agree with her more. To movie musical fans like me, this film adaptation of the Broadway show seems like manna from heaven. Filled with great ABBA songs, exuberant dance numbers, gorgeous scenery and unforgettable performances, the movie version is a joyous celebration of love and friendship.
Seyfried (from TV’s Big Love) portrays Sophie, a young girl about to be married to handsome Sky (Dominic Cooper). Raised by her mother Donna (Meryl Streep) in a hotel on a Greek island, Sophie’s been kept ignorant about who her father is. But she wants to find out the truth, so -- unbeknownst to her mom -- she invites three suspects to her wedding, forging Donna’s signature on the invitations. What will her mother do when these three men turn up? Which one is Sophie’s real dad? And who will walk down the aisle to “give her away” at the wedding?
Discovering the answers to those questions adds to the fun while watching Mamma Mia! But it’s the wonderful singing and dancing that made this movie such a treat for me. Seyfried wows us with her lovely voice plus an entrancing screen presence, and Streep (The Devil Wears Prada) belts out showstoppers as well as ballads as if she were born to be a musical star. Also more than holding their own are Christine Baranski (The Grinch) and Julie Walters (Calendar Girls) as Donna’s old friends, the other members of “Donna and the Dynamos,” their former trio. When these three women perform “Dancing Queen” in full campy regalia, it brings down the house.
Continuing the casting perfection here, actors Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard surprise us with some musical talents of their own. Brosnan’s (The Matador) singing comes across more like rhythmic acting -- but it’s just right for the role he plays here, a man disillusioned with love and yearning to be proven wrong. Firth (Love Actually), who plays a banker with improving “spontaneity” on his mind, can usually make me laugh because of his subtle facial expressions and delivery. In Mamma Mia!, he charmed me completely as he sang and played a simple guitar solo introducing one of the sequences featuring all three men. Skarsgard, who looks different in every movie -- if you don’t believe me, watch him as the villain in King Arthur or Father Merrin in The Exorcist: The Beginning -- is up to his old tricks here. He nails the laid-back role assigned to him, from his carefree appearance and attitude to his brush with nudity in one funny scene. He also projects a love of dancing, at least until his character is frightened into a more serious romp by one of the Dynamos.
And, oh those ABBA songs! Besides “Dancing Queen,” other highlights include “The Winner Takes It All,” “Voulez-Vous,” and “Money, Money, Money.” Happily, director Phyllida Law, working from Catherine Johnson's excellent screenplay, moves the story along at a spirited pace by including as many musical numbers as possible.
At the screening I attended, the packed audience applauded enthusiastically at the end of Mamma Mia! During the closing credits, I’m sure many of them wanted to join Seyfried as she sang “Thank You for the Music.” I know I did.
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated “PG-13” for some sexual comments.)