A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mamma Mia! is a 2008 movie inspired by the musical inspired by the music of Swedish 1970s hit-makers ABBA. This lightweight, sun-kissed musical will likely appeal to the teen girls (and their moms) who make up much of the fan base of the Broadway musical it's based on. Language is quite tame overall ("ass," "bitch," UK terms such as "bollocks" and "bugger"), but sexual innuendoes do fly -- there are plenty in the ABBA song lyrics alone -- and one of the main characters is a woman who gets pregnant but doesn't know who her baby's father is. A sex toy is seen briefly during a dance sequence. Expect a quick kiss between two men; one key character turns out to be gay. There's also a brief, nonsexual glimpse of a man's bare butt and a fair amount of drinking, but it's mostly in the context of everyone having fun on a Greek island, and it's all pretty social in nature. Characters also drink throughout and often appear to be drunk. Expect references to marijuana.
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What's the story?
In MAMMA MIA!, with her wedding fast approaching, 20-year-old Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) does the unthinkable: She invites three men -- Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), and Harry (Colin Firth) -- from her mother Donna's (Meryl Streep) past to the Greek isle-set festivities without telling her. Donna dated all three one long-ago summer, and one of them is Sophie's father, though she's not sure which one. But Sophie is convinced that one of them should walk her down the aisle, even if it means wreaking havoc just before the big day.
Is it any good?
Based on the hit Broadway musical of the same name, this movie is a frothy concoction that manages to entertain despite the fact that it's disjointed, nonsensical, and fairly cheesy. Onstage, you can forgive all these shortcomings -- the music, the dancing, and the theatricality of it all sweep you away. But on-screen it's a more hazardous bet. Though some of the musical numbers soar -- "Dancing Queen," of course, and the infectious "Mamma Mia!" -- many more hit the wrong note. Although Streep is formidable (who else can meld camp with believable emotion?) and actually sings quite prettily, the dance numbers might make you laugh in all the wrong places. Seeing Streep in Spandex, her straggly mane tossing about, is a little like witnessing your mom let loose at a party after one too many drinks: Your heart soars at her joie de vivre, but you also kind of want her to stop. Still, Streep's acting chops serve her well; Christine Baranski, who plays Donna's cougar-y sidekick, also fares well, and Julie Walters is just plain fun. Brosnan is dashing as always, though singing isn't his strong suit. And Firth and Skarsgård seem like afterthoughts.
In the end, it's Seyfried who frankly saves the whole enterprise. Her Sophie beseeches you to check your judgments at the door. Her voice is outstanding, managing to ground the silliness of ABBA's greatest hits. And the island? It's so heavenly that it mitigates the film's flaws. So what if it's all a little off? In the end, Mamma Mia! manages to move you with its unabashed exuberance. The eponymous tune does, after all, go: "Mamma Mia, how can I resist you?" For a few moments, anyway, it's the 1970s all over again. Bring on the disco ball.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about who Mamma Mia! is meant to appeal to -- older fans who've been listening to ABBA since they first hit it big, or younger folks who might be familiar with the Broadway show. Do musicals translate well to the big screen? What makes them successful (or not)? What messages does the movie send about relationships and marriage?
Musicals have been a film genre almost since the days in which movies first had sound. What are some of the elements of musicals, not only in terms of performers singing but also in terms of production values, choreography, and style?
Do you think the frequent sexual allusions and insinuations are necessary for the movie? Why, or why not?
- In theaters: July 16, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: December 15, 2008
- Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan
- Director: Phyllida Lloyd
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Musical
- Topics: Friendship, Music and Sing-Along
- Run time: 108 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some sex-related comments
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