Mamma Mia! The Movie: Two Disc Special Edition Review
Oh...I do! I do, I do, I do, I do, I do...love ABBA? ...remember the early eighties when it was preferable, in homage to Spandau Ballet, Visage and Howard Jones, to wear a tea towel and makeup and to be seen in the company of a bald man throwing off his mental chains, over ever admitting to a liking for ABBA? ...or have a hankering for a film that, in spite of there being no consistent theme among them, hauls in just about every ABBA song you've ever heard of to serve a story that is not only childishly simple but features people so bewilderingly dim that the spelling of ABBA may in fact be beyond them.
Mamma Mia! stars Meryl Streep as Donna Sheridan, a single mother making good with the small hotel that she owns on the island of Kalokairi. The wedding of her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) to Sky (Dominic Cooper) is fast approaching and to celebrate, Donna invites her old friends Rosie and Tanya (Julie Walters and Christine Baranski) to the wedding. Unknown to Donna, though, Sophie is sending out some invitations of her own and not only to bridesmaids Ali and Lisa (Ashley Lilley and Rachel McDowall). To the sound of I Have A Dream, Donna posts invitations to American Sam Carmichael (Pierce Brosnan), writer and adventurer Bill Andersson (Stellan Skarsgård) and banker Harry Bright (Colin Firth), any one of which could be her father. Surprisingly, they arrive in time for the wedding, sailing to Kalokairi on Andersson's boat, and begin the process of falling in love all over again, to Kalokairi, to Donna and to the daughter they never knew they had.
Not that Sam, Bill and Harry actually realise why they have been invited back to Kalokairi, at least not until Sophie begins spending an awfully generous amount of time with three apparent strangers, looking at them in such a way as to suggest a very deep friendship has formed between the four of them and, merely adding to their confusion hiding them from her mother. So clouded are their minds on the matter of why they find themselves at the wedding of a complete stranger that it is to Voulez-Vous, a hen and stag party and Sophie almost going so far as to hold a sign aloft saying, "I may be YOUR daughter!"
Such fretting, though, suggests a viewing of Mamma Mia! in which one is paying far more attention to the story than is demanded by it. Instead, this is a film in which the bonus sing-along subtitles is deemed to be more important than the revealing of any surprises. The ABBA songs that feature so prominently take precedence over advancing the plot through the spoken word to such an extent that, when no one is singing, the film looks impatient. Early on, the songs are few and far between, with the literal Greek chorus milling about for the dance number that never comes but, by the film's end, they arrive in such number that they threaten to trip over one another. Poor old Pierce Brosnan looks as though he would be much happier were he simply reading the lyrics aloud than having to sing them but he's a game old thing. He looks less content singing than would the Queen were she to warble her way through her Christmas Message but he tries.
Indeed, Brosnan adds to the feeling that this is all a drunken karaoke session in which famous actors belt out equally famous songs without so much as a care in the world. Meryl Streep does best of all, her singing voice being a mix of passion mixed with a certain inexperience. This is best heard in the low-kicking stage numbers that close the film, in which Donna And The Dynamos reprise their act in some very tight-fitting lycra. With onscreen lyrics to sing along with, Mamma Mia! will no doubt do very well on DVD, playing at parties in which ladies, their singing voices bolstered with wine, spirits and mixers belt their way through Super Trouper, Lay All Your Love On Me and Dancing Queen. 'tis the pity that Brosnan doesn't so much ride roughshod over S.O.S. (the best ABBA song by some margin, largely on account of sounding exactly like the E.L.O.) as let his voice at the wheel of a road roller to drive forwards and backwards over the song at will. But it's good enough that it's in there at all, particularly with so many other ABBA songs jostling for space. The problem with Mamma Mia! is that these songs leave very little room for anything that might pass for a plot. But it may be that this is intentional, with the opportunities to sing along with the film counting for much more than a story. And that, for fans of this film, is probably just fine.
Just as Mamma Mia! will sell many millions more ABBA records, so will it entire many people to the Greek island of Skopelos. It looks great with the sun glinting off the bright blue sea and the village either awash with rich colours in the dance numbers or blinding the audience with its whitewashed buildings. Voulez-Vous is probably the best dance sequence in the film, even with a touch of psychedelia in its deep purple, but the stag party, with his pier-full of dancers in shorts and snorkelers and the film's final run of songs in the church are almost it's equal. Voulez-Vous wins out on account of its very complete marriage of sound and pictures.
The film does rather well by both and the DVD isn't at all bad either. There's a crispness to the film that is missing from many other blockbusters and while there's a rather ramshackle approach to its direction, Mamma Mia! does shine in its musical numbers. There is some decent use of the surround channels but it's appeal is more in the pop sheen given to the songs and while Brosnan may not be much of a crooner, he is balanced out by Baranski, Walters, Seyfried and, best of all, Streep. Some of the words sound as though they have been changed, albeit that I'm on expert on ABBA, but that won't pose very much of a problem to anyone watching this with a smile on their face throughout.
Sing-along: This is the first and will probably be the most watched bonus feature on the set. It is, though, merely a set of subtitles that highlights the lyrics on the screen, all in such big letters that only the most inebriated won't be able to read them. The lyrics are also available in Spanish and French but they only get normal-sized subtitles. What does that tell you about the appetite for alcohol in English-speaking countries?
Deleted Musical Number (3m02s): Based on The Name Of The Game, this precedes Bill Andersson telling Sophie that he is her father and her asking him to give her away at the wedding. It's much less showy than, for example, Honey Honey or Does Your Mother Know and while some may miss the song, there's very little gained by this number.
Audio Commentary: Director Phyllida Lloyd, who also directed the original stage play in London is on her own for this track and, well, there are moments of interest should you choose to stick with it but they're mere nuggets in an otherwise unexciting commentary. It's also very easy to tire of Lloyd's over-the-top praising of her colleagues, all of whom are somewhere between geniuses and artists.
Deleted Scenes (8m06s): Onto the second disc and a brief set of scenes cut from the movie. These include a more laid back introduction to Sam, Bill and Harry, which doesn't work quite so well as that in the film, and a lot more of Lay Your Love On Me and Sky's very well-toned stag party guests.
Outtakes (1m34s): The advantage to these is that they don't last very long.
The Making of Mamma Mia! (24m07s): This opens with the producers of the original show praising ABBA's songs and how well they fitted to a staged story of marriage on a Greek island. How this viewer hopes that they feel the same about the songs of Bob Seger and that Night Moves: The Musical is forthcoming. Still, this dips into interviews of cast and crew, action on the set and even brief appearances from Benny and Björn to explain the story of how Mamma Mia! made it from stage to screen. It's Law who manages to best sum up the making of a movie by saying that it's like the day before the opening night of a stage show for all eighty days of the shoot.
Anatomy of a Musical Number: Lay All Your Love on Me is one of the more impressive musical numbers in the film, not least when twentysomething men throw their shapes throw their shapes on the pier. This takes the song from studio to beach and from the original recording to filming.
Becoming a Singer (10m55s): This featurette opens with Benny, who was one of the names behind all these songs, saying that they wanted full control over the music. And so, long before they met the cast, they hauled the original recording band back into the studio to play the music and only then brought in the cast to record them prior to filming. Streep and Seyfried do best while Firth, Skarsgård and Brosnan are clearly battling not only their own fear of singing but also the tune. No matter, it's not a film that suits a set of pitch-perfect voices and this feature, with its interviews with Benny and the cast, sums that up nicely.
Behind the scenes with Amanda (4m14s): A camcorder accompanies Amanda Seyfried around the back of the set, which is clearly not Greece but somewhere close to Pinewood. But this scatty little feature soon sees us in the Mediterranean, on a boat and in a dressing room.
On Location in Greece (4m05s): And so, having seen plenty of Pinewood, we now come to Greece, with there being many beautiful shots to entice people to head Greece-wards on their holiday.
A Look Inside Mamma Mia! (2m41s): ABBA: The Movie! Or at least that's what this opens with, showing the audience ABBA-mania before teenage record-buyers fell out of favour with the one-time winners of Eurovision. Then, it's on to happier times for ABBA and the resurgence of their music, Mamma Mia! the musical and this film. No mention of Björn Again, though, who probably played as big a part as any in hastening ABBA's return to girls' nights out.
Finally, there is a Music Video (3m50s) for Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! and a glimpse at the cameo offered by Björn Ulvaeus (1m36s). There is also a limited digital download of Mamma Mia! but having only put two ABBA on my iPod under much pressure from my wife, I'm refusing to have this film crowding the sword'n'sorcery films on there.