Thursday, February 5, 2015

Mamma Mia Review (Classic Write-Up)

Yooooouuuu Can Jiiiii-iiiiiive
The world of music is a complex one filled with wonder and beauty. It's the kind of medium for artistic expression that allows for a wide gamut of ideas and tones to be crafted, perfect for telling stories of all shapes and sizes. Over the career of any given singer or band, the discography of any musical entity is bound to have tunes with a humongous range of ideals. Some songs could be sad, some could be happy, and ABBA certainly took advantage of all the possibilities that music offered to create a massive amount of famous songs.

Trying to utilize several of their songs and create some kind of narrative with it is a daunting task to be sure, but it was a task that a certain Broadway stage musical accomplished to record breaking sales and audience approval. It was inevitable that the show would be translated to another medium, and when the film version of Mamma Mia! opened on July 18, 2008, it introduced me to the world of ABBA and it's musical accomplishments. I had no idea what that band was or even what this movie was before I saw it...but now, I can't imagine my life without this wonderful film.

The plot is a simple, yet extremely effective, one, with Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) wishing to find out who her father is so he can attend her wedding. Unbeknownst to her mother, Donna, (Meryl Streep), she sends invitations to three men who could be her father, resulting in shenanigans a-plenty, pathos and Stellan Skarsgard's bare buttocks. That plotline isn't a complex one full of twists and turns, but it's actually wonderful in that regard. This tactic allows for the characters and songs to really leave an impact, both of which are the films best assets.

Seyfried has wound up becoming a pretty well-known actress after this film (though for some reason her most high-profile role last year was playing Seth Macfarlane's ex-girlfriend), and for good reason. She manages to make Sophie's quest personal and understandable, and plays moments where she could alienate the audience with surprisingly deft tact. She and Meryl Streep have a very realistic mother-daughter dynamic, with both having distinct desires that the story never brushes aside in favor of contrived plot points.

In fact, the films best sequence center around these two actors, as the song Slipping Through My Fingers is used as a framework for a scene where Donna helps Sophie get ready for her wedding. As Donan wistfully looks back on "all those wonderful adventures, the places I had planned for us to go...some of that we did, but most we didn't...", Streep's vocals are utilized to add a heartbreaking atmosphere to the film. The impact of this wedding finally hits the viewer, as the powers of Meryl Streep and the fantastic music combine to create a rich emotional connection.

Mamma Mia! actually has a knack for using the songs to advance the characters and story, which helps make them even more effective. The aforementioned number does an excellent job at concocting a melancholy ambiance that similarly successful musical number Our Last Summer also creates with riveting success. That musical section is actually a great showcase for one of the films most notable elements: Pierce Brosnan's singing. The former 007 has vocal chops that are, to be kind, not exactly perfect. It's especially obvious whenever he has to sing in a song with someone like Amanda Seyfried, whose vocals are amazing.

Still, that's honestly part of the films charm to me. Brosnan was so committed to being a part of this movie that he didn't let a little thing like "vocal capabilities" stop him from having a major role in a musical. And truth be told, his far from perfect singing is never really distracting, and doesn't hurt showstopper sequences like S.O.S. Plus, he does well in simple dialogue interactions with Seyfried and Streep, which is actually a recurring positive attribute of the entire cast. They all bounce well off each other, especially Christina Baranski and Julie Walters as friends of Donna. The three of them are so damn entertaining to watch in their sequences together, I'm still demanding a spin-off film focusing on them seven years later!

That sense of fun runs rampant through Mamma Mia!, a film full of absurdity (the dancing scuba divers! Never forget!) and surprisingly poignant sequences revolving around the ever present essence of time. Balancing the two elements could be a hassle, but Mamma Mia! pulls it off with aplomb, especially since those contrasting moments all help make the films numerous sequences of jollification all the more irresistible. Just watch Streep, Walters and Baranski lead a crowd of folks in an exhilarating performance of Dancing Queen and try not get swept in Mamma Mia!'s world of musical joy.

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