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Fathers and Daughters
In Their Own Words
by Mariana Cook
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
The cute variation on the missing father theme that the libretto of this musical comedy embodies works for both the universality of its appeal (gays not excluded) and the structural richness of a musical. Clever on all counts and at least half the reason for its stage success--the other half being the music from the 1970s ABBA playbook. What, don't know their music? All the better.
Sophie (Amanda Seyfried, "Alpha Dog," "Mean Girls"), having found the young man of her dreams, is planning her wedding. But something is bothering her. Living with Donna (Meryl Streep) her mom, for 20 years, helping her run an inn on a Greek isle, she's never been told anything about her father. It's become a big gap in her life.
One day, Sophie discovers mom's diary from her younger, sexually adventurous years and, with great eagerness and joy in the company of her young friends, Sophie shares it and discovers that, within the time frame of her probable conception, mom had liaisons with three men, all of whom were great in their distinctive ways and who quickly disappeared from her life. The feisty bride-to-be takes an audacious step and sends invitations to her wedding to all three, expecting to "sense" which one she can call "dad." That's if they come, and that's no sure thing.
But come they do, Harry Bright (Colin Firth, "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason"), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard, "Dogville") and Sam Carmichael (Pierce Brosnan, "The Matador") and, two of them missing the ferry join up with the third en route and making the island suddenly richer with male voices for the vocal interplay ahead. After arriving, they think fondly of their youthful paramour, Donna, but haven't a clue why, exactly, they've been invited. The fun is in the finding out.
It's not so much fun as confusion for the independent innkeeper who feels intruded upon by three guys she's long ago forgotten about. But, alas, one of them is her daughter's father and she commiserates over it volubly in song, dance and narrative with her compliant support team consisting of her one-time backup singers for "Donna and the Dynamos" Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters).
First off, they didn't cast Julie Walters as Molly Weasley in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" because she looked like Charlize Theron. So how does this frumpy woman wind up in a trio of hoofers in a romantic musical comedy? (Not that she doesn't give it her all, but please, somebody tell me how it's a logical casting? Was Holly Hunter not available?) On the other hand, gams and sexuality, 56-year old Baranski is a poster girl for svelte middle age fitness. This babe rates a Wow and total credibility as a hot older woman any beach bartender might make a play for.
On the paternal side, the problem is different. While no stage presentation of "Mamma Mia" would compromise vocal power in casting these characters, it's the name of the game for the high-budget movie version. Abba's Benny Andersson may have kindly and publically said that Pierce Brosnan is "great," referring to his singing, but it just isn't so. Close, but no marquee attraction. He's not even a Richard Gere ("Chicago") clone. Of the three men we find here, however, he's the only one with the hope of a voice cred.
Such are a few of the negatives. When it comes to the virtues to be found here, they offer enough power to blow you away and fully justify whatever you paid for the ticket. That is, if you come to simply be swept into a warm surround of stage-seasoned music, choreography, and talents of the two primary leads, Streep and Seyfried. The former blasts the top off her epic accomplishments; the latter radiantly makes her mark as a hot star whose incandescence glows bright under cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos's well placed key lights.
So, what to expect from the Phyllida Lloyd directed, Catherine Johnson written, breathlessly paced powerplay? Musical lovers will want to experience it three times, ensuring a big opening and a very notable cume (accumulated world-wide rake-in) as it releases around the globe. The insistently critical and morbidly non-sentimental will find cracks all over the place ("dizzying," "overabundance," "souffle," etc.) and would be advised to go see "The Dark Knight" instead. Critics, leave your analytic genes at home and enjoy. I managed to.
P.S. When the story ends don't be in too great a rush to get away. They knew you'd want more, and they give it to you.
~~ Jules Brenner