I suppose our recession will have to worsen considerably before I become nostalgic for the Great Depression, but when it comes to musicals, they sure don't make 'em like they used to. My grandparents could thrill to the sinuous foxtrot of Astaire and Rogers on a regular basis, whereas today's marketplace supplies, roughly once per year, the dubious pleasure of an overlong, over-edited Tae Bo video featuring a tone-deaf movie star in the role of Billy Blanks.
So here it is, folks, straight from Broadway: the story of blushing bride Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), who invites her three potential papas to her big fat Greek wedding, announcing her intentions through the timeless melody of ABBA. In other words, Mamma Mia! is just like your nuptials, except that the disco jockey has started work a full day early. Let me be perfectly clear: This thing is a terrible idea and its theatrical acceptance signals the death of civilization as we know it. "Seeing that girl," "watching that scene," I was most certainly not "digging the dancing queen." But then, she hadn't yet arrived.
Just when I was choking on the bubblegum, Sophie pipes down and makes room for single mom Donna, who's supposedly outraged at the arrival of her three former flames, though we know better—they're played by Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgård and Colin Firth! As the repressed hausfrau, Meryl Streep pads in like she owns the place—she does—and belts out a lament about "a rich man's world," but it's Meryl's world, and we're just living in it. The actress' ruddy nose and watery eyes are a great comfort, suggesting a normal allergic reaction to the songs of ABBA, as digitally tacky as the Mediterranean sun glaring in the background. She blossoms from domestic goddess into rock goddess in a very plausible five seconds, chuckling to herself at what fools we mortals be. She's a mighty Aphrodite in denim overalls, an aging flower child giddy with menopausal lust, and her Material Girl contortions warrant a disclaimer: Don't try this at home, lest your back give out on you.
Streep and fellow baby boomers Julie Walters and Christine Baranski vamp their way through the repertoire like the Sex and the City gang gone to flaxseed. Their backup chorus would appear to be the entire population of Old Europe, but Baranski also gets her own black cabana boy, named Pepper! It's trash cinema at its finest, fueled by trash music at its catchiest, plus enough estrogen to put Pierce Brosnan out of breath, though I suspect he's just having trouble with the long notes. PG-13.
SEE IT: Mamma Mia! opens Friday at Cedar Hills, Eastport, Cinema 99, City Center, Division, Fox Tower, Hilltop, Lloyd Center, Oak Grove, Sandy, Sherwood and Vancouver Plaza.