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Musical mess

Movies | Everyone and everything suffers in Mamma Mia!

Issue: "Summer of '68," Aug. 9, 2008

It's hard to tell 
what suffers most in Phyllida Lloyd's cinematic adaptation of the stage musical Mamma Mia! (rated PG-13 for occasional sexual humor)-the ABBA songs on which it's based, common sense, or taste.

The plot, a kind of My Favorite Wife rewritten as My Favorite Dad, is promising: 20-year-old Sophie (Amanda Siegfried) invites to her wedding three of her never-married mother's former lovers in the hope of identifying, and finally bonding with, her father. Lloyd, however, is uninterested or incapable of mining the conflicts for laughs or coherence. Striving to be serious and lighthearted, in favor of marriage and opposed to it, Mamma Mia! ends up neither having nor eating its cake.

Confusion proliferates. Why, for instance, do half the characters have British accents and the other half American when the setting is a remote Greek island on which they all grew up? And why do Sophie and her fiancé Sky (Dominic Cooper) find themselves on the verge of marriage when they demonstrate far more mutual antagonism than affection?

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The songs might have come to the rescue. But instead of being sung by performers comparable to ABBA's Annifrid Lyngstad and Agnetha Faltskog, they're sung by the actors and actresses themselves, none of whom would stand a chance on American Idol.

And whereas ABBA's videos have the photogenic Lyngstad and Faltskog going for them, the zaniness of Mamma Mia!'s mainly middle-aged cast draws unflattering attention to the ravages of time. Even Meryl Streep's performance as Sophie's mother Donna is of a piece with that of Julie Walters and Christine Baranski, who as Donna's best friends recall nothing so much as The Golden Girls.

Throw in irrelevant references to intergenerational sex (heterosexual bad, homosexual good) and the answer to what suffers most where Mamma Mia! is concerned becomes obvious: the audience.

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