Musical film 'Mamma Mia!' is a winner that takes it all

The Baltimore Sun

Mamma Mia!, the international stage musical? It's selling out, SRO, in its normal manner. For years I've been quoted in endless ads as saying this show is "the most fun on Broadway." A lot of insiders tut-tutted this and are already looking askance at the film. But now I can add that this phenomenon will be the most fun for summer movie fans as well. And if you didn't like the super angst and materialism of Sex and the City, here you'll find three female friends (and one daughter) who are charming and also good-hearted, giddy and able to take a joke on themselves and their genre.

This is a movie that I believe shouldn't even be judged by normal cinema standards. (It probably won't hit the Academy Awards bull's-eye; it's too popular!) And the elite cadre of film critics is already on its case. But I still find ABBA's score of pop '70s songs irresistible. Audiences simply go crazy at the first bar of every one, whether in a theater or at the movies.

I loved Meryl Streep, stepping out of her serious deep drama reputation and into hot rock-'n'-roll costumes with platform heels and big hair. (She also wears overalls and sneakers for much of the movie.) Here's a woman who can do no wrong for me, and she sings, dances and blends right into Catherine Johnson's story, plus falling into one of her leading men's arms at the end for several hot, lush, romantic clinches.

Add the sexy, deadpan, haute humor of the "sophisticated" Christine Baranski and the enticingly down-to-earth aggression of Britain's great Julie Walters, and Meryl has herself some fine fast friends.

One of the surprises of this Mamma Mia! is young Amanda Seyfried as Streep's about-to-wed, seeking her-long-lost-father daughter. (If you think you've seen this little beauty before, with her touching eyes and tenderness, you probably have. In the Tom Hanks-produced Big Love series on HBO - about Mormons in your own neighborhood - Amanda plays the only seemingly sane person in a bedeviled-by-religion atmosphere. This kid can really act.)

The three male stars are being attacked by some as if Mamma Mia!'s material simply isn't good enough for them, or vice versa. I loved all of them - Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard. And I especially liked them at the denouement when they, too, appear in rock drag. (And don't miss the local Greeks as a, yes, Greek chorus!)

Original MM! producer Judy Craymer and director Phyllida Lloyd took a big chance making Mamma Mia! their way. And the setting on a gorgeous Greek island isn't bad either; it makes you want to ask the waiter for more tzatziki.

If I have even a quibble with this movie it's that there are sometimes too many close-ups and not enough concentration when the stars are dancing.

But the overall effect is mesmerizing. I can't wait to go see it again.

Photo shoot

Went to a photo shoot in New York City last week with the genius photographer Art Streiber, who was snapping ladies of a certain age for a coming More magazine issue.

We each posed in T-shirts reading, "Own Your Age" and I rubbed elbows with old friends Amy Tan, Martina Navratilova and Judy Collins. (I have known these three women for at least 20 years, and they all look much younger and better than when we met!)

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