film reporter


No matter how many blockbusters there are, Universal's screen version of the global hit stage musical "Mamma Mia!" is the most fun to be had at the movies in this or any other recent summer.

Teenage boys might be glued to the latest action adventure, but the rest of the family will have a rollicking good time dancing in the aisles to Swedish pop group ABBA's irresistible songs. It's a delightful piece of filmmaking with a marvelous cast topped by Meryl Streep in one of her smartest and most entertaining performances.

After its world premiere today in London, the film opens Friday in the U.K. and in North America on July 18. It will surely follow the stage show around the world in pleasing audiences and raking in what one of the infectious songs celebrates: "Money, Money, Money."

Credit goes to the original show's creators — producer Judy Craymer, director Phyllida Lloyd and writer Catherine Johnson — for seeing their vision through to such a polished and enjoyable picture. Hanging a tale of a woman whose daughter night have been fathered by one of three attractive men on a bunch of ABBA songs sounds simple, but its simplicity is as deceptive as the masterfully crafted songs themselves.

Streep plays Donna, a former singer who has raised daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) alone at a fading resort on a remote Greek island. Sophie finds her mother's diary from 20 years earlier and discovers that there are three men who might be her father. About to be married to boyfriend Sky (Dominic Cooper), she sends invitations to the celebration to all three on behalf of her mother but without telling her.

Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard, as the possible dads, show up on the island where Donna is readying the wedding, helped by her two best pals (Julie Walters and Christine Baranski). The scene is set for songs, dancing and romance, all staged brilliantly, with many energetic and colorful performers beautifully shot.

The songs from Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus have memorably sturdy lyrics that the filmmakers weave with great skill into their story. All of the players perform with gusto, including Skarsgard, Brosnan and Firth, who, far from embarrassing themselves, sing well and deserve high praise for being such good sports.

Seyfried and Cooper make appealing juvenile leads, while Walters and Baranski contribute greatly to the film's good-natured comedy. Each has a big solo number, with Baranski belting out "Does Your Mother Know?" to a randy beach bum and Walters entreating a reluctant groom with "Take a Chance on Me."

Streep is sensationally good in rendering the whole yarn credible and in performing such dramatically moving songs as "Slipping Through My Fingers," sung to her departing daughter, and "The Winner Takes It All," to a lost love. It's no stretch to think of her performance in Oscar terms, ranking with such previous musical winners as Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

And when Streep teams with Walters and Baranski for such dynamic and crowd-pleasing numbers as "Dancing Queen," "Mamma Mia!" and "Super Trouper," there's not an audience anywhere that won't be smiling.