Can I Go Too?

           When I went to see the new movie musical “Mamma Mia!” I didn't know if I was an ABBA fan or not, because ABBA was a phenomenon that bypassed me entirely.

            After seeing the movie I still don't know if I like ABBA or not, but I do like the movie.

            Here we have a slew of famous actors cavorting around a Greek island on a paid vacation, getting to eat, drink, sail, swim, and burst into song at any opportunity, and the fact that they're having a great time jumps off the screen at you.

            The good nature and high spirits of the story almost get out of hand with a frantic pace that could use a few more quiet scenes, but the performers' enthusiasm carries you through right to the concert during the end credits.

            Meryl Streep plays Donna, innkeeper at a lovely but decaying villa on a spectacular Greek island. She's about to marry off her daughter Sophie (the lovely if overly-giddy Amanda Seyfried) to a charming young man (Dominic Cooper) who goes by the too-70s name of Sky. Sophie invites her two best girlfriends to be her bridesmaids, and Donna invites her best pals too, so we get to watch Julie Walters and Christine Baranski go wild amid the fishing boats and olive trees.

            Characters run in threes in Greek stories (the Three Graces, the Three Gorgons) so here come three guys for the third group: Sophie has read her mother's diary (shameless child!), has discovered that there are three candidates for her father, and invites them all. “When I meet my dad everything will fall into place,” she chirps ingenuously.

            The fact that all three show up could possibly be a plot contrivance, but I prefer to think that it's a tribute to the allure of La Streep, a woman d'un certain age who is still wildly attractive.

            Even if you hate ABBA, Streep is, as usual, a good  reason to see the movie. She has sometimes been guilty of being too Streepish on camera (though her acting wheezes are better than many other performers' stabs at sincerity), and here she cuts loose, singing (in a very good natural voice) and dancing and crying and laughing, and otherwise having a Big Time.

            Donna is nonplussed to find her three swains from twenty years before invading her island sanctuary, though they all (Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgård, and Colin Firth) are as charming as it's possible to be under the circumstances. Each man thinks that Sophie is his daughter, and since Sophie can't bring herself to tell them all the whole story, the ensuing confusion provides what passes for a plot, the one that all the songs get strung on.

            Here let me digress to the movie's one huge, glaring miscalculation, which is that all the actors do their own singing. I hasten to add that this is a really good idea for almost everybody in the cast: Colin Firth has a really sweet voice, and Baranski and Walters can belt out a torch song that would not shame Bessie Smith, usually while sliding off rooftops or falling into the sea.

            But oh my – something none of us ever knew is that Pierce Brosnan CANNOT sing. The reason we didn't know this is that nobody has ever asked him to sing before, and now we know why. His voice is a breathy, rasping croak that approximates pitches in the most casual way; usually you can tell he's singing only because the words that come out are in rhyme. But, do you know something else? It doesn't matter. His enthusiasm and good nature shine through the grotesque attempts at la vocalise, so you end up being as fond of him for his failure as you are of the three-year-old who forgets her words in the Sunday School pageant.

            In fact, there is very little in this movie for anyone except a sourpuss to find fault with, from the Greek peasants who form a real Greek Chorus, to the exuberant performances of the really happy cast, to the Greek scenery of the Greek islands that look more like paradise with each passing frame. (Can seawater really be all those shades of blue?)

            If, as I am, you are fond of movie musicals,  you've enjoyed (with reservations) recent entries, such as “Chicago” and “Rent” with their dark stories and sometimes challenging scores. “Mamma Mia!” can't be called challenging on any level; it's an amiable hoot, so treat yourself to a mini vacation in the Isles of Greece for a lesson in having a good time.