“Mamma Mia!” – A Fun Film – Becomes the Highest Grossing Movie Musical in History

Mamma Mia! – 3 Stars (Good)

Every now and then a movie comes along that makes no pretense of featuring great acting, singing, directing and writing, but seeks to be only what it is-just plain fun! The most recent of these rare movies is “Mamma Mia!”, released in 2008.

Based on Abba’s hit single of the same name, Mamma Mia! first opened as a musical at the Prince Edward Theatre in London in 1999. The original Broadway production opened in 2001 at the Winter Garden Theater in New York, and has run for more than 3,100 performances through April of this year. It has now toured in more than 140 cities in America.

Mamma Mia! was nominated for Best Musical and Best Musical Score at the 2002 Tony Awards. The director of the original Broadway play, Phyllida Lloyd, is also the director of the movie. The musical book and screenplay are both by Catherine Johnson.

According to Variety, Producer Judy Craymer and writer Catherine Johnson “were broke when they first tried to put the show together . . . and now are two of the wealthiest women in England.”

That would be because Mamma Mia! set a new mark for the biggest weekend premiere ever for a movie musical–$27+ million. It also became the highest grossing film of all time in the United Kingdom, and would go on to become the highest grossing musical film worldwide, generating $610+ million with a production budget of $52 million.

Combine the movie with the stage productions and Mamma Mia! has grossed $2 billion in revenue since opening in 1999. Much of the success has to do with Abba, the Swedish pop/dance group that became one of the most internationally popular entertainment attractions from 1972 to 1982. If you do not recognize Abba, you would recognize its music.

Mamma Mia! is a treasure trove of Abba music composed by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, and includes “Dancing Queen”, “Super Trouper”, Knowing Me, Knowing You”, “Take a Chance On Me”, “Thank You for the Music”, “Money, Money, Money”, “The Winner Takes It All” and “I Have a Dream”.

Mamma Mia! takes place on a Greek Island where the never-married Donna (Meryl Streep) runs a not very successful hotel with her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), who is about to be married to Sky (Dominic Cooper). Donna invites her two best friends to the wedding-Rosie (Julie Walters) and Tanya (Christine Baranski); the three of them formed a trio on stage at one time.

Sophie, who has never known who her father is (her mother doesn’t know either), finds her mother’s diary from 20 years ago and discovers that her mother was intimate with three young men at that time-Sam Carmichael (Pierce Brosnan), Harry Bright (Colin Firth) and Bill Anderson (Stellan Skarsgard), one of whom is her father. Not knowing which one, she invites all three to her wedding and her mother has a fit. See the movie for how it all gets resolved.

Despite getting Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture and Best Actress (Meryl Streep, who else would it be?), Mamma Mia! took a lot of hits at review time, not the least of which was “this must be the only musical in movie history made up almost entirely of people who can’t sing”. It is true that the film did not benefit from having the cast perform its own musical numbers.

Mamma Mia! did not win any major awards worth talking about, but the excellence of Abba’s music and the fun atmosphere of the presentation cannot be denied, which is why I gave it a 3-star (good) rating rather than 2-star (average) rating.

I would rather not hear Pierce Brosnan sing again. You can say anything you want about Meryl Streep, but remember this: She has been nominated as Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress for 14 Academy Awards and has won 2 Oscars, and she also has been nominated for 21 Golden Globe Awards and won 5 times, more than any other actor in the history of either award show.

Don’t fight it, if you want some fun entertainment, see Mamma Mia!

Copyright © 2009 Ed Bagley