We saw Mamma Mia! at a screening Thursday night. I know that I will be seen as a killjoy to the multitude of ABBA fans and all those who have loved the Broadway stage version over these past eight years; but we saw it for nothing and you shouldn't pay a penny more. That's about what it is worth.
The story in its simplest form (and that's all there really is) is about a young woman (Sophie) who is about to marry her boyfriend (Sky) and finds her mother's (Donna - Mamma Mia) diary in which she identifies the three men she had sex with before she became pregnant with Sophie. One of these men (Sam, Bill or Harry) is obviously Sophie's unknown father. So, of course, Sophie invites all three to her wedding on a Greek Island. She plans to identify the one who participated in her conception (rather naively she expects to recognize him on sight, which, of course, doesn't happen) and ask him to walk her down the aisle. Oh! one more thing: she doesn't tell Mamma Mia or boyfriend Sky anything about her plan. So, when the three potential dads arrive together on Harry's boat you can imagine the comedy of errors that ensues.
Actually this almost non-existent story is really just an excuse for some essentially non-singing actors to perform 17 familiar ABBA tunes: "The Dancing Queen," "Honey, Honey," "The Winner takes All," and, of course, "Mamma Mia."
All I can say is "thank god for Broadway veteran Christine Baranski (who plays Tanya, one of Momma's buddies). Her other backup singer (yes! Momma was a band singer in her checkered past) is played by the wonderful British actor Julie Walters. Who acquits herself very well. The others try hard to do justice to ABBA with varying degrees of success - Meryl Streep (Momma Mia) and Amanda Seyfried (Sophie) succeed better than the three guys (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard) who should not give up their day jobs.
I'm not at all certain why they needed a writer (Catherine Johnson) to create all this. The dialogue isn't much more sophisticated than the story. And the direction (Phyllida Law-who directed the Broadway show) could have been done improvisationally by the actors without much help. If I never see another bunch of Greek villagers dancing through town again it will be soon enough. But then remember this is all merely to provide a framework on which to hang the ABBA tunes. So the real question is does the music make it worthwhile. The ABBA music is certainly pleasant enough. It is melodic and upbeat. But if the purpose is to highlight the music why get a bunch of non-singing movie stars to perform it. I guess they thought they needed the names to sell tickets. I'm not sure how much recording trickery was necessary to make it possible for Meryl Streep to hit and carry out some of those notes. But, all I can say is, if Marlon Brando could assay Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, the movie, you go girl. The three guys add almost nothing to the mix. And there is far more chemistry between Donna and her daughter than there is between momma mia and the one with whom she finally hooks up. The whole thing does leave you wondering: where is a home DNA kit when you need one.