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Originally published July 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 17, 2008 at 11:02 AM

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Movie review

"Mamma Mia!": A love-hate relationship

Meryl Streep sings and Pierce Brosnan doesn't in the goofy musical "Mamma Mia! The Movie," featuring the songs of ABBA. Review by Moira Macdonald.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2.5 stars

"Mamma Mia! The Movie," with Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Julie Walters, Dominic Cooper, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd, from a screenplay by Catherine Johnson, based on the songs of ABBA (by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus) and the stage musical written by Johnson. 108 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some sex-related comments. Several theaters.

"Mamma Mia! The Movie" Movie Trailer

There's nothing remotely subtle about the movie version of the ABBA musical "Mamma Mia!" and people's reactions to it won't be subtle either: You will hate this movie or you will love it. Or you might experience both extremes, as I did, sometimes at the same time. Hearing Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan warble "S.O.S.," with Brosnan's "singing" so excruciating you wonder if somebody's pinching his big toe off-camera, is not an experience to be lukewarm about. (Actually, it's kind of endearing that the former James Bond can't sing. You don't hear about Daniel Craig doing karaoke, do you?)

Clunkily directed (by the show's original stage director, Phyllida Lloyd), awkwardly written (by Catherine Johnson, who wrote the stage play) and indifferently photographed, "Mamma Mia!" is nonetheless irresistible. ABBA songs, as even those who love them will admit, are the musical equivalent of a handful of sequins: insubstantial, synthetic, simplistic — but oh, how they catch the light. Put a bunch of them together and you've got a mountain of sequins, which is as good a description as any for "Mamma Mia!" (It's also a pretty good description for an ABBA concert. Full disclosure: I went to one, as a sparkly eyed teenager, and remember a great deal of Spandex involved, not to mention a lot of fun.)

The movie's plot, like that of the stage show, ties a goodly number of ABBA songs together, sometimes with tenuous thread — you'll laugh out loud at how, for example, "Fernando" gets wedged in. Since most of the songs aren't really about anything, they're just thrown in wherever they sort of work.

Sophie (sweet-voiced Amanda Seyfried), opening the movie, sings "Honey, Honey" to her two sidekicks while explaining that she's invited all three of the men who just might be her father to her upcoming wedding, even though her mother, Donna (Streep), doesn't know. (Feel free to hum "Does Your Mother Know" right here — it makes about as much sense.) Meanwhile, Donna's two best friends and former backup singers (Christine Baranski, Julie Walters) have shown up at Donna's rustic hotel on a remote Greek island, populated entirely by cheerful folk who like to sing and dance.

The potential dads (Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård) arrive for the wedding soon afterward, and thus ensues a lot of sun-drenched frolicking, a little angst, more than a few plot holes (what, there's no such thing as DNA testing in Greece?) and every ABBA song you can possibly imagine. It's very, very silly but undeniably sparkly, and those with a fondness for "Voulez-Vous" and its ilk will be won over. And the cast, all of whom seem to be having a glorious time (though Firth at times looks a tad befuddled, like he's not quite sure what landed him here), pitch their performances to the back row and revel in the goofiness of it all.

None of this would matter much if this movie wasn't anchored by a star turn, and Streep delivers yet another in a career full of them. In interviews, the Greatest Actress of a Generation often sounds like she'd be a lot of fun to hang out with; there's a wry, clowny side to her that bubbles up in conversation. Playing Donna seems to channel her inner silliness; hitting every note effortlessly, with an appealingly light pop voice, she prances through the movie as if ever-so-slightly tipsy (a fine state of mind, now that I think of it, for watching this movie). She twists her lines into appealing little knots, and does a bit of comic business involving a cordless drill that's almost a movie in itself.

Amid this movie's sequined pleasures, Streep's a genuine diamond.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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