New-Release Tuesday: Mamma Mia!

Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

I’m just going to say up front… Mamma Mia! is a bit of a strange duck. It started life as a popular West End musical in London, built around hit songs from Swedish pop icons Abba. Then it was adapted for the screen by Tom Hanks’ Playtone production company.

The story is pretty straight forward. Bride-to-be Sophie, played by Amanda Seyfried, has stumbled over her mother Donna’s diary and discovered that three men are potential candidates to be the father she’s never known. Taking a chance, she decides to invite all three men to her wedding—being held on the small Greek island where Donna runs a villa.

Of course, Sophie doesn’t tell anyone that she’s doing this. This presents a humorous problem when all three men arrive simultaneously and Sophie has to hide them from her mother and fiancé. And oh yes, also try to figure out which of them really is her father. If this sounds like a challenge to you, you’re not far off the mark.

Running the show is director Phyllida Lloyd, making her feature film debut. That could be a cause for concern if you didn’t know she also directed the stage production. It’s safe to assume she knows a thing or two about the material and musicals in general.

The cast of Mamma Mia! is a mix of veteran actors you might not expect to find here and relative unknowns you may not have seen before… although, now ten years down the road, many are no longer unknown. Most of the focus will naturally be on Meryl Streep—who plays Donna—and Pierce Brosnan as Sam, one of the possible fathers.

I never really thought of either of them as especially musical, but I have to say the performances are surprisingly good. Though I’m still not sure I can really wrap my mind around the concept of Brosnan singing rock songs…

Overall I wouldn’t say that everyone is as talented musically as Streep proves to be, but it’s a testament to good direction that the talents each actor does bring to the table are used effectively. This is a good thing because Mamma Mia! proves to be much more than a film with a few musical numbers tossed in for good measure.

In talking to a friend after the screening, I said it was a musical that happened to be filmed on location. I still think that describes it best. The actors do have to act also, but it’s remarkable how well the Abba songs fit in and contribute to the narrative.

The biggest struggle I had with the film in general was the fact I wasn’t familiar with the stage musical that came before it. I don’t mean to suggest that you need to know the material to enjoy it, but it did leave me floundering at first because I wasn’t sure how serious I was supposed to take things.

The answer I think proves to be: not very serious at all. Mamma Mia! is fun, light-hearted fare that is most often delivered with tongue firmly in cheek. This one should be a sure thing for anyone who remembers favorite Abba tunes fondly, but honestly I don’t think that’s a requirement. A love of music and a desire to escape into a positive, upbeat film for a while should prove sufficient.

Mamma Mia! is scheduled to debut tomorrow on Netflix. You can also stream it with Amazon Prime and YouTube. Plus the sequel is due out in July!