Haven't you ever wanted to sing your way up a hill of Greek steps?

Mama Mia

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            Gotcha. Movie critics around the country have been caught saying they would rather be dead than enjoy ďMama Mia.Ē In one cynical voice they have hedged their egos to separate themselves from the crowd that loves the Broadway play and the movie. After protecting themselves by rejecting the movie, a few then admit they enjoyed themselves in spite of their requisite pre-judgments. It would never do for a critic to be part of a crowd.

            Whatís up there on the screen? For the first while, confusion. Are we in the Ď50s? On Broadway? In a school musical? Are we put off by the sight of performers breaking spontaneously into song? Sure. Are big cast musical numbers embarrassingly cute? Not really, because hereís what happens: when the audience finally absorbs the castís sense of fun, the mood in the theater shifts to one of delight. There is an audible impulse among them of wanting to get up, right there in the aisles and join the chorus. In some kind of a tacit collective acceptance, the audience relaxes and laughter rolls through the theater; it is laughter not of mockery but of appreciation.

            There is no mistaking the enthusiasm and pleasure of the old pros who cavort through this movie in what is surely an improbable, nearly inconceivable, piece of casting. An ex-hippie (Meryl Streep) is giving a wedding for her daughter (Amanda Seyfried) on a Greek island where she runs a broken down inn. The daughter has secretly invited three of momís old boyfriends in an effort to determine which of them is her father (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard.) Momís contribution is the arrival of her two best friends (Julie Walters and Christine Baranski).

            The fun, and believe me, there is fun to be had, lies in the spectacle of six serious A list actors cutting loose against type. Is this really Pierce Brosnan, our sophisticated James Bond, bursting into song in the middle of a sentence? Is this he, staring melodramatically out to sea while Streep explains herself in song? Colin Firth, Mr. Darcy of all people, dancing in tights? Stellen Skarsgaard, bare bottomed on his boat? Aware that they may be tampering with their images, the men are clearly more uncomfortable than the women; but that only adds to the fun for the audience that appreciates their willingness to take the risk.

            Streep, Walters, and Baranski seem to be on the perfect busmanís holiday, loving every minute of playing to the fantasies of the audience. Havenít you always wanted to sing your way up a steep hill of Greek steps? Or jump on a bed with a former lover? Or dance down the middle of a long table? Streep will make you want to sing; Walters, who nearly steals the whole show, will make you want to dance; so be one of the crowd this time. And donít even think of leaving before the credits roll. Critics, stay home.


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