Friday, July 04, 2008

Meryl Streep deserves an Oscar for her performance in MAMMA MIA!

Mamma Mia! The cruel meatball of war has rolled onto our laps and ruined our white pants of peace!The story is slight. Twenty years ago, Donna (Meryl Streep) fell in love with Sam on a Greek island, but he left her to marry his fiancee. She then slept with two other men on the rebound - Harry and Bill. Twenty years later, the resulting child, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) secretly reads her mother's diary and invites her three potential fathers to her wedding, hoping that she'll just intuit who her real dad is. Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) remains a free-spirited traveller, rather flummoxed at the idea of having a daughter. Harry (Colin Firth) is now a straight-laced financier, who is charmed with the idea of even a part-share in a daughter. But for Sam (Pierce Brosnan) the prize is not just a daughter, but lost love.

The resulting movie is a well-crafted balance of the light and dark in Abba's music. On the one hand, we have all the disco classics, with high-energy song and dance routines. Christine Baranski and Julie Walters are laugh-out-loud funny as Donna's female friends and Colin Firth steals a couple of scenes towards the end of the film.

On the other hand, the writer has evidently taken care to listen to the lyrics of the darker material about relationships gone wrong and thwarted dreams. These are played out in the relationship between Donna, her daughter, and her old lover Sam. Meryl Streep is absolutely brilliant as Donna. We really believe that she used to be a wild child, and she pulls off all the physical comedy. But Streep excels in the scenes that demand emotional depth. In particular, her performance of "The Winner Takes It All" - a brutal song - is heart-breaking. I didn't imagine I'd leave MAMMA MIA! having seen an Oscar-worthy dramatic performance, but I honestly believe that Streep has pulled it off.

Phyllida Lloyd's direction is full of energy and in general, feels naturalistic, even when the performers go into heavily choreographed routines. She wisely uses a lot of location work rather than studio sets, and Haris Zambarloukos' photographs the Greek islands beautifully. The only mis-steps for me were the staging of "Money, money, money" and the use of the literal Greek Chorus, which seemed just too camp and jarred with the less stage-y feel of the rest of the movie. Still, the odd gripe aside, MAMMA MIA! was tremendous fun and also surprisingly moving. I was dragged along by a total Abba fan who was desperate to see it on opening weekend, and I felt a little hemmed in by the die-hard fanatics at the start, but soon lost all my prejudices. MAMMA MIA! makes for great entertainment and is by far the most satisfying summer movie this year.

MAMMA MIA opens on July 3rd in Greece. It opens on July 10th in the UK, Australia, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Sweden. It opens on July 17th in the US, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Austria, Estonia and Finland. It opens on July 23rd in Egypt; in August in Spain, the Czech Republic, Brazil, Argentina, Israel and Mexico. It opens in September in Slovakia, Romania, Belgium, France, Hong Kong, Singapore, Russia and Venezuela. It opens in Turkey and Italy on October 3rd.

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