Mamma MiaPG, Nationwide
Mamma Mia has to be the most fun you can have with your clothes on. Or is it off? When you get to my age, it’s such a struggle to remember. Either way, though, if you are now expecting this review to be subtly and cleverly interweaved with punning ABBA song titles then you can just forget it. My, my, how can I resist it? Easily, my dears; easily. Or, as Bubbles says, ‘Gimme, gimme, gimme a man after midnight.’ Well, it just goes to show; you can live with someone for years and years and years and still not know everything about them.
Anyway, this is the film adaptation of the stage musical, which has already been seen by 30 million people in 160 cities across the world and proves what I have said all along or, if you are going to quibble, then at least since I was three: take those supremely catchy ABBA hits, construct the loosest of loose narratives around them, shake it all up with lashings of enthusiasm and just the right amount of cheesy, cheeky self-awareness and voilà! There’s your global smash. I do wish people would listen to me. It is very irritating, you know. And we could all have made a truckload of ‘Money, Money, Money’, which is always handy, it being a rich man’s world. (Sorry; won’t happen again.)
This loosest of loose narratives concerns Donna (Lady Meryl of Streep), who runs a small hotel on a small Greek island and has a daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), who is 20, about to get married, and wants her father to walk her down the aisle. Trouble is, who is her father? She’s never been told. So she reads her mother’s diary from that time and secretly invites the three men who, 20 years earlier, each enjoyed a ‘romantic encounter’ with her. I can see why the filmmakers opted for Mamma Mia as a title but, come on, it could just have easily been: Mamma Mia, What a Slag! (That said, you can tell Donna hasn’t had any for a while. She wears dungarees.)
The three possible dads? They are Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgård and Colin Firth. Heavens, I’d hate it if Colin Firth turned out to be my dad. All that sexual fantasising for all this time; just how creepy would that be? It’s Brosnan, though, who is really the romantic lead and his performance is actually sweetly touching. In fact, when he sings he tries so hard to sing you can actually see all the vocal lessons he’s had in the set and tension of his jaw. It’s strangely moving, this triumph of effort over talent. And Lady Meryl of all that is Streep; can she sing? That’s what everyone has been asking, like it even matters. It’s Meryl Streep; it doesn’t matter. (Actually, she can sing well enough: Postcards from the Edge; hello? Anyone at home?) But you don’t hire Ms Streep to sing. You hire her because although she’s not all that great at not taking herself seriously, and can’t romp and camp her way through with as much delicious and joyful abandon as Julie Walters (who plays Donna’s old friend, Rosie), she can take a song like ‘Winner Takes It All’ and give it much more depth and gravitas than it has ever, or will ever, deserve. She can also do beautiful without even being pretty. And she does that thing with her face — is it some kind of twitch of the lip? — that always makes her look as if she’s on the edge of some kind of delirium, and which is always just mesmerising somehow.
But joyful abandon is the thing, I think, and the key. Mamma Mia (What a Slag, Pre-Dungarees!) has been made with the most delicious, joyful abandon and all it asks is that you joyfully and deliciously abandon yourself to it and don’t make too many observations along the lines of: how clever of Sophie to know the exact addresses of her three possible dads after all these years! You have to buy into its spirit and, oh, the joy of the big numbers, like ‘Dancing Queen’, when the whole island ends up on the beach, including the little old Greek ladies, or Julie Walter’s pursuit of Stellan Skarsgård, pleading with him to ‘Take A Chance On Me’. Lovely. Such fun. In fact, Julie Walters performs as if she never knew there was so much fun to be had (with clothes on or off; I am still struggling to remember).
OK, it’s a busy film, perhaps too busy, and there is a lot of hugging, perhaps too much hugging, and Sophie is quite wet, but it’s also a beautifully realised piece of cinema which has no agenda beyond pure, full-on, toe-tapping entertainment. Go and enjoy, although not after midnight, should you fear missing out on a gentlemen caller. (Do you fear that, Bubbles? ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do.’)