Mamma Mia!

English Title: Mamma Mia!

Country of Origin: USA

Studio: Universal Pictures

Director: Phyllida Lloyd

Producer(s): Benny Andersson, Judy Craymer, Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, Mark Huffam, Björn Ulvaeus, Rita Wilson

Screenplay: Catherine Johnson

Cinematographer: Haris Zambarloukos

Art Director: Dean Clegg, Rebecca Holmes, Nick Palmer

Editor: Lesley Walker

Runtime: 104 minutes

Genre: Musical

Starring/Cast: Christine Baranski, Pierce Brosnan, Dominic Cooper, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Meryl Streep, Julie Walters

Year: 2008

Volume: American - Hollywood

Mamma Mia! is set in the present day on a beautiful Greek island, and covers the events of just 24 hours. 20-year-old Sophie is to be married the next day to Sky and wants to invite her father to ‘give her away’ – but he is one of three possibilities. As neither Sophie nor her mother Donna knows who the father is, Sophie decides to invite all three, in order to decide which one is the real one. However, neither her mother Donna nor her groom Sky knows what Sophie has done. Even the potential fathers are not told the real reason why they are invited, until after they arrive. The resulting mayhem – as discoveries are uncovered and confessions are poured out and emotions explode – leads us through a plethora of music and dance routines to an unforeseeable climax at the last, in the beautiful and tiny chapel on the top of an almost inaccessibly-minute islet alongside the island.

Mamma Mia! is based on the originally a West-End production and it was the same writers who went on to make the film. Written to fit with a raft of ABBA’s hit songs, the contrived storyline does not detract from the overall power of the narrative to draw the audience in. This modern-day love story clearly references some Greek mythology (for example, the villa where the scene is set is rumoured to be built on the legendary fountain of Aphrodite, which is introduced near the beginning of the film and then brought back to provide a climactic ending). There is also a Shakespearean feel at times, as though we were watching one of the Bard’s Plays (Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing come to mind, but omitting all things dark or deathly). The twentieth-century music from ABBA’s hits catalogue adds a pop culture twist to the mix of Shakespearean stage play and Greek myth, all set in an open-air Greek theatre. This is a film with universal appeal for almost everybody of any age or cultural taste.
ABBA, the world-famous Swedish band from the 1970s and 1980s, not only provides the music but two of the singer-songwriters (Benny and Bjørn) were involved in the film’s production, bringing their own hugely-popular disco fan culture to the big screen. From the moment the film rolls we are drawn in, but it is not only the music that inspires. There are several striking features that contribute to the success of this film: The fabulous views and scenes, and the setting on an idyllic Greek island in constant blazing sun, with blue skies and azure seas; the very simple and easy-to-understand storyline; the total lack of violence – physical or emotional; the cast, easily recognizable from other starring roles, play hilariously against type (Mr Darcy from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice rubs shoulders with Ian Fleming’s James Bond). The universal Meryl Streep is confident in her lead singing role, so too Julie Walters, who plays Donna’s English confidant with typical flair and humour. But, it all works.
There is ludicrously glorious madness to the story, so that suddenly we are caught up in a wild stampede of a thousand Greek peasant women, casting off their burdens to become the Dancing Queen, or the ‘Stags’ (the Groom’s friends) clambering up the cliffs by torchlight as if in a scene from Homer’s Odyssey, or the Mediterranean humour of the island’s locals while Meryl sings, ‘Money, Money, Money’. Stand-out scenes see Tanya (Christine Baranski) rejecting the boyish advances of Pepper at the beach bar, singing, ‘Does your mother know?’ and the flipper-dance by the ‘Stags’ on the beach jetty to the song ‘Lay all your love on me’, looking for all the world like ‘The Dancing Men’ of the Sherlock Holmes’ mystery.
The brave decision not only to choose the cast they did, but also have them all sing their own songs without dubbing, might be one of the reasons why this film inspires similar levels of audience participation as the cult The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and The Sound of Music (1965). Those who could not sing and those who could not dance sang and danced anyway – and obviously had as much fun trying – as those in the audience dressed up, watching and laughing. Colin Firth said they did not ask John Travolta so they got what they got, and Pierce Brosnan remarked it was the most enjoyable film he ever made – and they even paid him to do it! The film should not have to be taken seriously, and can be enjoyed for what it is – a romantic, comic, film musical that Hollywood seems destined to always make. This is pure fairy story.

Author of this review: Laurence Janicker