I need to start by saying that I am not an inordinately rabid fan of ABBA, nor am I a musical theater acolyte -- in fact I hate musicals for their campy, over-the-top cheesiness. Needless to say, I did not see Mamma Mia! on Broadway. I went to see an early screening of the film adaptation of said Broadway musical with a fair amount of trepidation. And I was pleasantly surprised by my lack of homicidal feeling once the closing credits rolled.
Now it might seem that going to a movie-musical based on the soft disco stylings of ABBA when I'm a card-carrying non-fan of either the Swedish pop group or the musicals genre is counter-intuitive and borderline masochistic. But I went with an open mind, which is necessary in this business if you don't want your soul to turn black as pitch, to say nothing of remaining a lively presence at parties. I tried to take all the inevitable shameless mugging and corny musical interludes with a grain of salt.
After making a pledge with myself to suspend judgment and disbelief, I found that, almost against my will, I was getting bewitched by the alternate reality in which bursting into song in the middle of a conversation is totally acceptable. Meryl Streep was a surprising (and fairly risky) choice for the role of earthy ex-hippie disco-dancing sex kitten, but damned if she didn't sell it. And what's more, she sold it wearing a pair of denim high-water overalls. Let's see your average, run-of-the-mill Oscar-winner and actorly institution do that.
Christine Baranski was, not shockingly, fantastique as the boozy, slutty sidekick, though that's sort of become her calling card and it would've been nice to see her draw from her formidable resources doing something we haven't seen her do a thousand times. Colin Firth was also excellent as the smoldering ex-rocker turned buttoned-up businessman, and Stellan Skarsgard was born to play the wayward, tomcatting thrill-seeker.
One of the uncontested low points was Pierce Brosnan, who can't sing worth a damn -- something I'm pretty sure despite my deficiency in musical theater knowledge is sort of a pre-req for this sort of performance. And as for the promising young starlet Amanda Seyfried, she's got a decent set of pipes, but she pretty much embodies everything I hate about musicals in this guise -- overly earnest, pose-y, and given to the kind of plasticized, cutesy facial expressions I'd bet money she spent hours perfecting in the mirror of her trailer. There's no doubt she possesses raw talent, and to be fair, the role of straight woman is pretty hard to glam up, especially when you're playing opposite the likes of Streep and Baranski. But I couldn't shake my visceral desire to smack her.
All in all, Mamma Mia! is just what you'd expect from an ABBA-inspired musical -- pure, unmitigated fluff, complete with charmingly choreographed dance sequences, blue eye shadow, vaguely creepy allusions to the persistence of sexual desire well into old-age (who wants to think about their parents slutting it up into their sixties, really?) and requisite disco vamping. And if you're willing to accept it for what it is -- namely, a bit of uncomplicated silliness -- you won't be disappointed.