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A-listers Can Be Dancing Queens, Too

Mamma Mia! here we go again with another Broadway-to-film adaptation. Will Meryl Streep belting out Swedish pop hits in Greece garner a Hairspray-sized audience?
mammaHollywood loves a bankable movie trend.  Take the ’00-’01 phase when all the movies were about drugs (Traffic, Blow), or that period of time in the late ‘90s typified by teams of average Joes fighting aliens, asteroids, and/or the end of civilization (Independence Day, Deep Impact, Armageddon). 
The current soup du jour is lighter in subject, but not less heavy on the repetition: revivals of Broadway classics on the big screen. Over the past few years Chicago, Phantom of the Opera, Rent, Hairspray, and The Producers (the last two occupying that strange niche of film-to-Broadway-to-film, a trend that could potentially continue with Legally Blonde and 9 to 5) have made the jump from stage to screen with as much if not more fan- fare than their original openings on the Great White Way. These films may have earned their fair share of Oscar nods and industry credibility, but it’s hard to avoid looking at each silver screen Broadway baby as an exercise in using the same-ingredients in a new-mold—the movie making machine.
Mamma Mia! is the latest in a fast-growing line of success stories. Famously assembled from the pop hits of ABBA’s catalog, Mia! tells the story of a bride-to-be who invites her hippie Mom’s three former flames to her Greek Isle wedding to determine which mystery Dad should walk her down the aisle. Through song, dance, and dramatic irony the real baby daddy is revealed; but not without a long, winding trip down memory lane for the mother of the bride.


Director Phyllida Lloyd (a well-known British stage director, who worked on the original play) has learned how to charm audiences from her predecessors in the stage-to-screen journey. The formula requires an A-list cast of Hollywood insiders taking on new, shocking roles (most notably Meryl Streep as Donna, the lead female), show-stopping choreography performed in over-the-top sets (gorgeous Greece), a starlet just about to burst on to the scene (Amanda Seyfried of Mean Girls fame as Streep’s daughter Sophie), and a supporting cast of equally famous screen veterans who are easy on the eyes (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard as Donna’s Sam, Harry, and Bill, respectively) and high on the comedy (Christine Baranski and Julie Walters as Donna’s posse, Tanya and Rosie).


For all its bells and whistles—in the form of wow dance scenes and whoa costumes (God bless Pierce Brosnan in spandex)—Mia! is a delight. Of course, it bears mentioning that an appreciation for the pop perfection of ABBA is required, but it takes a cold-hearted person to hate “Dancing Queen.”


miaStreep proves that The Devil Wears Prada was just her warm-up in what may be a later career of dead-on character acting. She can’t really sing, but it doesn’t matter. She’s as Oscar-nominatable as ever. The men of the film hold their own—though Brosnan’s reported Bruce Springsteen rasp is more like a Tom Waits croak&mdashagainst the twenty-year-old chorus boys.  Skarsgard’s dance moves are particularly hysterical, his loose hips and wobbly head providing endearingly real counterpoint to the sharp steps of the back-up boys, and Firth adds his perfect dry humor. Seyfried, looking shockingly like Streep’s own daughter, is also strong as a triple threat playing well opposite the baby-boomer cast.  She really can sing and also properly plants herself on the right side of cheesy.    
It’s a good movie, great even at times, but that’s not why it’s projected to compete, in a canny bit of counter-programming, with The Dark Knight for healthy weekend box office.  Mia! sits in one of today’s cinema sweet spots: the bright and shiny Broadway experience re-formatted (and way better priced) to fit your movie screen.  Like Judd Apatow’s geeks-conquer-the-world humor (Superbad, Knocked-Up) and Marvel’s string of superheros (The Hulk, Ironman) Mia! is at the right place, at the right time, with the right mix of what past audiences have proven they want to buy. 


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