When some people think of “Mamma Mia!”, they think of ABBA, the Swedish pop sensation that wrote and performed the title song; others think of the hit play written by Catherine Johnson who based the story on several ABBA songs. The most recent “Mamma Mia!” is a film version of the play starring Meryl Streep as Donna Sheridan, a single mother who lives with her daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) on a Greek Island where she runs an old hotel.
The story begins with soon-to-be married Sophie sending out three letters to her three possible fathers, Bill Anderson (Stellan Skarsgard), Sam Carmichael (Pierce Brosnan) and Harry Bright (Colin Firth). Sophie, having read her mother’s diary, decides she must learn who her real father is before her wedding so that he can give her away. So begins the journey of Sam, Bill and Harry who make their way back to the Greek Island where they fell for Donna 20 years before. While Sophie is plotting to secretly bring her potential father to her wedding, Donna is busy making preparations for her daughter’s wedding; a wedding she doesn’t fully understand. Donna meets her longtime friends, Rosie (Julie Walters) and Tanya (Christine Baranski) who arrive for the wedding.
Bill, Sam and Harry arrive and meet Sophie, who thought she’d know her father at sight, but still isn’t sure. Sophie hides them in an old attic room together and confesses that she sent the letter and that her mother has no idea they’re there. What she doesn’t tell them is that she thinks one of them is her father. Sophie makes the men promise they won’t ruin what she says is a fun surprise for her mother, which they agree to. However, when Sophie leaves, Donna catches a glimpse of the men and suddenly all her old feelings are rushing back. Here, she sings the title song, “Mamma Mia!”. The men and Donna finally come face to face and they offer excuses as to why they’re there…all but Sam who says he’s there to see her. Donna, upset by their presence, spends time with Rosie and Tanya and tells them that she doesn’t know which one is Sophie’s dad. They cheer her up by singing “Dancing Queen”.
Sophie eventually spends time getting to know each one and how they met her mother. They all sing “Our Last Summer” as they reminisce and share common interests, making it even harder for Sophie to recognize which one is her real dad. This is a nice scene that captures the characters extremely well and their connection to who they were 20 years before and who they’ve become. Each character couldn’t be more different, and Firth, Skarsgard, and Brosnan offer enjoyable performances that only enhance the film.
At Sophie’s Bachelorette party, Sophie talks with each potential father, and each one is determined that they’re her real dad and that they must be the one to walk her down the aisle. Further confused and hurt by not knowing the truth, Sophie becomes overwhelmed and panics. The next morning, Sophie confronts her mother and they argue about the wedding and Donna’s past. After Sophie runs off, Sam appears and he and Donna sing “S.O.S” as they rediscover their feelings for one another.
Sophie runs off to tell her fiancé Sky (Dominic Cooper) the truth about inviting the three men, but Sky is upset that she didn’t tell him and that their presence is the only reason she wanted the lavish wedding. Hurt by Sky’s reaction, Sophie turns to her mother in a lovely scene where Streep sings “Slipping Through My Fingers” as they get ready for Sophie’s wedding. This is one of the more lovely, emotional moments in the film and it’s really due to Streep and Seyfried. You believe that they are actually mother and daughter and that they’ve experienced so many beautiful moments together. This wonderful scene is followed by an even more powerful performance from Streep who sings “The Winner Takes It All” when Sam confronts Donna before the wedding. This is the kind of performance that proves Meryl Streep can do anything and bring raw emotional and conviction to any role she takes on.
The setting for the wedding is picturesque; before the wedding begins, Donna reveals that she doesn’t know which man is Sophie’s father, much to their shock (seeing as how each one was sure they were the father). There is a sweet, albeit somewhat easy conclusion that follows the announcement. At the end of the film, Donna, Roise and Tanya sing “Dancing Queen” and the rest of the cast join in for “Waterloo” in ABBA-like costumes and all.
While the story is simple enough and the songs are constant throughout the film, I can’t bring myself to say I liked “Mamma Mia!”. There were moments I liked very much (like the moments between Streep and Seyfried who played off each other beautifully), but the majority of the film felt silly and cheesy. The truth is, I think this would be a great play (I’ve never seen the play production), because all the little things that annoyed me in the film (a scene where Baranski is being followed around by a bunch of young men, the song “Honey, Honey” near the beginning of the film, some exaggerated expression), things that seemed a little too animated even for a musical, were things that I think would have worked perfectly and believably on the stage. Is that a double standard? I guess so.
However, plays are so very different from films, even the musical films have to show some restraint on camera since it picks up every expression when so close. As for the story, it was nothing new, but it worked well with the ABBA songs. The vocal performances were so-so for the most part ( they wanted the actors to do their own singing), but Streep could certainly carry the song with strong emotion and power when called for. The real surprise of the film was Amanda Seyfried who has a fantastic voice and showed a lot of acting range and held her own against Streep. Seyfried made “Mamma Mia!” enjoyable more than anyone else.
While the film was a beautiful production, the thin story and some goofy moments made for a rather mediocre experience at times. “Mamma Mia!” certainly had a fantastic cast, but it wasn’t enough to save the film - while it's probably a great play, unfortunately it was just a very average movie.
VIDEO: "Mamma Mia!" is presented by Universal in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. This was a reasonably good presentation that only showed some occasional concerns. Sharpness and detail were often just fine, as much of the film appeared crisp and detailed. While some scenes looked somewhat softer, this may have been an intentional "look".
Although a few slight instances of edge enhancement appeared, the presentation was otherwise free of pixelation, print flaws or other intrusive problems. The film's rich, warm color palette looked bright and well-saturated, never appearing smeary or otherwise problematic. Additionally, black level remained strong throughout, while flesh tones looked spot-on.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation got the job done and didn't provide much more than that. While the material certainly doesn't provide a great deal of opportunities for surround use, I would have liked the rear speakers to provide a bit more reinforcement for the music and at least some mild ambiance during the outdoor scenes. On a positive note, audio quality was very good, as the music sounded full and lively, and dialogue came across sounding crisp and clear.
There are on-screen lyrics for all of the musical numbers in the film.
“Deleted Musical Number: ‘The Name Of The Game’”
“Commentary with Director Phyllida Lloyd”
Most of these deleted scenes are unnecessary, though some might have added some extra assistance to the overall telling of the story. Fun for fans of the film.
There aren’t very many outtakes, but the ones they do share here involve Meryl Streep. While not particularly hilarious, they are a fun look at the actress between takes and during slipups.
“The Making of Mamma Mia!”
This feature is divided into three categories: “Birthing of Mamma Mia!”, “The Filmmaking”, and “The Cast”. You can play them individually or you can choose to play all.
“Birthing of Mamma Mia” is a look at why the play was created and how the film evolved from the play. Director Phyllida Lloyd says that “even while we were making the stage show, we imagined what it might be like as a film.” Writer Catherine Johnson discusses changing the script for the play to a film version and Producer Gary Goetzman talks about wanting to “capture the tone of what it did live on stage.” This is an interesting look at taking a well known play to the big screen. What’s also interesting about the production is the fact that the women who worked on the play also worked together on the film.
“The Filmmaking” is a look at Phyllida Lloyd’s direction of the film. This is her first film to direct, but has done a lot of directing on stage. Lloyd discusses the stress of making the film, while others from the cast and production talk about her strengths as a filmmaker. “The Filmmaking” also looks at incorporating the music and dance into the film as well as the cast working hard to learn all their songs and then putting that on film. The location and set design are also looked at here.
“The Cast” is a look at casting the incredible group of actors. There’s audition footage, discussion from actors about getting the part and their cast mates performances, as well as footage from the film. This is a nice look at what the actors went through to learn their parts and master the ABBA songs.
“Anatomy of a Musical Number: ‘Lay All Your Love on Me’”
A look at what went in to making the song “Lay All Your Love on Me” work. With behind the scenes footage of rehearsals and interviews about the production, this is a nice edition about what it takes to get the final footage and have it work.
“Becoming a Singer”
ABBA member Benny Andersson (Composer/Executive Producer) talks about wanting to be responsible for the sound of the film. This is a fantastic look as how Andersson brings in the band that played with ABBA to record to music. Meryl Streep talks about working with Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus (Lyricists/ Executive Producer and also from ABBA) who were a part of the play as well as the film. A great look at the cast working with the songs and learning what their voices were capable of. There’s a lot of footage of the cast working in the recording studio.
“Behind the Scenes with Amanda”
Lots of little clips of behind the scenes footage with Amanda Seyfried. There’s not much going on here, but it’s enjoyable look at the actress having fun around the set and interacting the other cast members and crew.
“On Location In Greece”
A look at the locations used for “Mamma Mia!” and the local crew. The footage here and in the film is breathtaking.
“A Look Inside Mamma Mia!”
A look at the play (with some footage from the stage production) and the film. Very short featurette.
“Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! Music Video”
A music video with clips from the film and extra footage of Amanda Seyfried singing the song.
“Björn Ulvaeus Cameo”
A look at the Björn Ulvaeus cameo in the Greek Chorus of “Waterloo”.
Final Thoughts: While the film was a beautiful production, the thin story and some goofy moments made for a rather mediocre experience at times. “Mamma Mia!” certainly had a fantastic cast, but it wasn’t enough to save the film - while it's probably a great play, but unfortunately it was just a very average movie. The DVD offered enjoyable audio/video quality, as well as a nice set of extra features. Recommended for fans, others should try a rental first.
The Film C+