Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
United Kingdom/USA/Germany, 2008. Universal Pictures, Relativity Media, Littlestar, Playtone, Internationale Filmproduktion Richter. Screenplay by Catherine Johnson, based on her musical book. Cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos. Produced by Judy Craymer, Gary Goetzman. Music by Benny Anderson, Bjorn Ulvaeus. Production Design by Maria Djurkovic. Costume Design by Ann Roth. Film Editing by Lesley Walker. Golden Globe Awards 2008.
The stage show that took audiences by storm around the world now hits the big screen as a musical vehicle for the marvelous Meryl Streep. She plays Donna, a feisty single mother who has enjoyed the independence of raising her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and running her little resort on a Greek island all by herself. On the day before Sophie is planning to get married on the island to her sweetheart (Dominic Cooper), three men arrive on the island whom Donna hasn’t seen in twenty years; it seems Sophie has invited them in order to find out which of them is her actual father. None of this would be interesting, of course, if it weren’t for the plethora of chirpy ABBA tunes that chime out mid-conversation at every emotional turn. What made the play enjoyable was that the plot was a silly excuse for the songs, which when performed live were uncannily similar to the robotically perfect sounds of ABBA’s female singers. On the big screen, Catherine Johnson’s scenario seems a hell of a lot more anemic and isn’t justified by the singing considering that only a few of the actors (Streep, Seyfriend and Christine Baranski in particular) actually perform them reasonably well. Julie Walters‘ delivery of “Take A Chance On Me” is awkward at best, and Pierce Brosnan looks like he’s in need of an appendectomy every time he opens his mouth to warble. Even more foolishly, the producers hired the play’s original director Phyllida Lloyd to helm the picture, and she directs the actors as if they’re still projecting across a large theatre audience (stop screaming!), and lights every scene so that even the location shots look like they’re made on studio backdrops. What does make it worthwhile, however, is the openly acknowledged kitsch factor: there are lots of good laughs in the big dance numbers and the actors are all good sports throughout (just check out Colin Firth in his encore outfit). Then there’s Streep: her delivery of songs like “Slipping Through My Fingers” and “The Winner Takes It All” is so wonderfully sincere that you feel the entire movie come fully alive when she’s given centre stage, plus she looks really sexy in her “Super Trouper” outfit. Baranski is another standout, giving a pitch perfect rendition “Does Your Mama Know”, while the rest of the cast is filled out by Stellan Skarsgård (as the other possible dad) and two split second cameos by ABBA maestros Benny Andersson (as a beachside piano player) and Bjorn Ulvaeus (as a Greek god in the film’s closing credits).