I just got in from seeing a test screening of Mamma Mia! The Movie. It was absolutely fantastic!! We are definitely in for a treat come July when the movie gets a proper release. Here’s my review. Don’t worry for those not wanting spoilers, I have a warning in place before I discuss the movie so it’ll be safe to stop reading at that point.
Thanks to information posted to ABBAMAIL by Ian Cole about the test screening in San Diego, I managed to get to the screening. I got to the theater with plenty of time to spare, I was early for the recommended arrival time and I saw a few other people with printed out invitations so I followed them in to the waiting area outside the individual theater where the screening would take place.
I stood in line waiting to be issued a wristband and then to proceed to be checked for audio and video recording devices. The invitation recommended leaving cellular phones with cameras in our vehicles because they would not be permitted into the auditorium so I didn’t have my phone with me at all and thought it was going to be a really long hour to sit through without my phone to occupy my time.
As I entered the theater, most of it had been taken by people who were in a line for people who had arrived earlier. The line I was in was the next line to be formed with space assigned for another two lines. And it didn’t look like there was going to be enough room in the theater for everyone. I had to take a seat in the first third of the theater closest to the screen because everything further back was already claimed. Eventually every last seat was filled and quite a number of people had to be tuned away. It looks like it was overbooked on accepted RSVPs, which is certainly one way to pack each and every one of the seats available and the invitation did state that possession of an invitation was still not a guarantee that a seat would be available.
The forty-five minutes between when I sat down and when the movie was supposed to start was a great people-watching opportunity. It didn’t take long for the rows to fill up and now disappointed couples not being able to sit together. Seems like there were several parties that had more than the single guest the invitations said they could have. There was a little bit of drama over a group of seven where five of them managed to get in and grab seats but two couldn’t so they were arguing to see if the five would stay and the other two see something else or they’d all go, and they ended up all going and their seats were quickly snapped up.
Some people were roaming around and mostly targeting young teen age girls, getting their names, looks like they were being asked to stay following the movie for a focus group. I spent a bit of the time chatting with the two girls who were seated next to me; one of them was a current student at the university where I got my degree from. We joked that the not being able to have cell phones with cameras on them in the auditorium was like being a POW to have to spend nearly an hour with no means of outside communication meaning we’d actually have to either sit quietly or talk to our neighbors or people we came with.
At last the time for the movie to start was upon us and one of the lady who was selecting people for the subsequent focus group went down to front of the theater to announce the start of the film. She said this screening in San Diego was the very first one to be conducted; we would be the very first public audience to see the film anywhere in the world. She then said the film is in a work in progress state, so there might be places in the film where it’s not fully finished and places where sound and color might not look as great, and in general a disclaimer that it’s not yet perfect but rest assured it would be all completed in time for July when the movie gets officially released. She also went over why cell phones with cameras were confiscated from those who didn’t read the directions on their invitations to not bring them in. And she said to make sure we stayed seated at the end of the movie until the lights came up because there would be some special footage at the end.
And as for the movie, I’m just going to give a quick overview so that those who don’t want spoilers about the movie can bow out, and those who want the details can read on. Overall, the movie looked great, gorgeous scenery, and overall a great looking cast. The music was just so vibrant, and it was wonderful to hear the ABBA music everywhere, even in spots that weren’t proper songs to accent the scenes. It all sounded wonderful in surround sound that when I left the movie and put on some ABBA in the car, I was actually disappointed by how flat it all sounded compared to what I just heard in the movie. The funny part is much of the incidental uses of ABBA’s music in the movie sounded exactly like the ABBA versions, so I’m guessing the original music tracks were used.
The movie was a great translation of the stage show onto the big screen. Some of the scenes really seem to come alive with real sets rather than the two moveable stucco style walls that serve as the various stage sets. With Phyllida Lloyd also directing the movie it felt like watching the stage show but with the magic ability of showing everything instead of leaving it to your imagination. If you’re a fan of the stage show, you’re going to love the movie. If you’re not a fan of the stage show, I still think you’re going to have a great time. The cast overall sounded fantastic, there was one weak link vocally, and it was Pierce Brosnan. SOS was a little painful, as it seems to be in every staged version of Mamma Mia as well, because they never cast a Sam who can sing, but fortunately he doesn’t sing a lot. But I’m definitely very excited about a soundtrack for the movie, which is going to sound far superior to the London cast album. I can’t wait to buy it, and I also can’t wait to see the movie again in July and hopefully own on DVD before the year is out!
From here on out it’s all spoilers so run now if you want to experience the movie without spoilers. Do keep in mind that this was a preview screening so what I saw may even be changed to some degree before the final version hits screens in July.
The movie opened with Sophie singing “I Have A Dream” while coming up to the island on her little boat that’s seen in the trailers. This is cut in with shots of the mailbox each time it’s cut back to the mailbox is closer. Then we see Sophie approach the box with her three invitations with close ups on the envelopes as she drops them into the box reading each name. It just felt weird to hear the Bill Austin character become Bill Andersson but changing Bill to a Swede actually helped out the plot a little bit and gave an excuse to have the Swedish flag flying in a few scenes. Nice touch!!
After the final letter is dropped into the box, an instrumental version of “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” kicks in as we see each of the three dads in their home environments, Sam in his very American looking architecture office, Harry in a very posh looking British home, and Bill in a very rugged world traveler type environment, kind of Ikea meets Crocodile Dundee. The instrumental version of “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” that’s used here will blow you away, I got goose bumps hearing it, it’s like hearing it for the very first time with out any vocals whatsoever and it’s good couple minutes worth of it too. All these montages culminate with each of the dad’s method of transportation (Bill sails off in his boat, and the other two in planes.) And with Sam’s plane taking off and vertically flying across the screen leaving the Mamma Mia! title in its wake.
Jumping right into the movie as soon as the Mamma Mia! logo fades we’re on the dock where Sophie meets her two friends who’ll be her bridesmaids and the story is off and running with “Honey, Honey.” This is all done while the characters go from the dock up to where the taverna is located and the fun line from the trailer is shown of Donna saying how she used to have fun and the one friend adds her “Oh, we know” bit. The audience loved it. It really set the tone for the movie.
Then we’re back with the Dad’s or rather Sam and Harry as each are in a separate taxi racing through the Greek village to get to the dock for the ferry ride out to the island, neither one makes it to the ferry, it’s already just departed, and the next ferry out to the island isn’t until Monday. But who happens to be conveniently docked right there? Bill with his boat, and he offers to take Sam and Harry to the island.
Back on the ferry we see Tanya and Rosie climb over a few people on the crowded boat to find a seat. Once seated, one of the Greek guys pulls out Rosie’s “Whole Woman Cookbook” and wants her to sign the book for him. Tanya tries to be friendly with a woman next to her thinking the woman has a baby and Tanya uncovers it to admire it only to find a dead fish looking right back at her. It was a good comedic moment.
The dad’s meanwhile are getting to know each other on the boat, and see they have a few coincidences in common. They all know Donna. It’s been about twenty years since they’ve seen her. They all have invitations to the wedding. Imagine that.
Donna gets in her topless Land Rover to drive down to the dock to meet up with Tanya and Rosie. A little bit of the dialogue about Donna and the Dynamos is moved here to the dock scene and the usual dialogue from the play to advance to story and get to girls back to the Taverna where the ladies are shown to their room, where there are two beds, so none of the dialogue about the air mattress from the musical is there here. It truly wasn’t missed because I didn’t even notice it was missing until I started writing this paragraph. The start of “Money, Money, Money” commences with one of the shutters breaking off its hinge and falling into the courtyard below when Donna opens it up to show off the view while discussing how her taverna is in poor state of repairs. Here the movie departs the real world (as if it hasn’t already with Sophie and her friends busting out into song earlier) and we enter Donna’s fantasy world with a Titanic-esque shot of Donna on the bow of a small cruise ship or maybe even a very large private yacht sailing through the water with the wind blowing her hair and her long flowing scarf that’s draped in and out of the railing while flowing in the breeze. The montages cut back between the luxury of the yacht and the reality of the Taverna. The end of the song I thought was unique in that at the exact moment of the song ending the mosaic dolphin that’s tiled into the center of the courtyard cracks and it’s explained off as a little earthquake but makes it look like the end of the song did it. Some might find that cheesy but I liked it.
Well the dad’s finally make it to the island and they are introduced to Sophie who then escorts them to the goat house where she wants the three of them to stay since they can’t be seen until the wedding. Harry is a little miffed about sharing accommodations but has all his talk about wanting adventure and spontaneity in his life thrown back at him when Bill tells him its an adventure in response to Harry’s request to go back to Bill’s boat. The usual dialogue from the stage show is here to reveal that Donna didn’t really send the invitations and there is no round of “Thank You For The Music” here. Donna comes into the lower level of the goat house humming “Fernando” but it’s Sophie’s exit that causes noise to be heard by Donna who goes to investigate only to peek into the upper level of the goat house and see the three dad’s where she immediately has flashbacks to the what each of them looked like back in the day. Each was quite amusing but Pierce Brosnan with John Lennon style glasses and handle bar mustache was probably the most amusing out of the bunch.
We’re launched into “Mamma Mia” and Donna is trying to sneak a peek into the goat house to get a better look at the guys to make sure she’s not imagining things so she ends up climbing up onto the top of the goat house while singing the song and avoiding patches of the roof that creak like they’re going to break when she sets foot on them. The other villagers come assist Donna in both her song and dance as well as assisting her on the roof of the goat house. Where she promptly falls through the open trap door and is discovered by the three dads.
After her departure Donna races down to find Rosie and Tanya at the bar unable to really speak about it then she storms off to the restroom with Rosie and Tanya where Rosie and Tanya bust out into “Chiquitita” in probably the most awkward of all the bursts out into song moments in the movie. But it quickly becomes comedic gold, with Tanya poking her head over the toilet stall door and Rosie poking hers under the door on to reveal Tanya is standing on Rosie’s back.
The conclusion of the song leads to Donna’s confession, and breaking out into “Dancing Queen.” One of the segments that may be cut because lord knows how prudish American audiences can be is at the line where “Anybody can be that guy” and it has Tanya putting a red American football shaped item (wasn’t sure what it was) between her legs to mock being a guy. My thoughts were I hope this is early enough into the movie that people will long forget about it by the end to complain about it on the follow up surveys at these test screenings. Now it’s just to get it past the ratings board. It’s innocuous really but I can see it being cut because of prudish Americans. The scene is great in the bedroom and then it moves down to the courtyard where every woman they pass is inspired to jump in and sing along and follow the group down to the beach and the dock where it seems like every woman on the island has been called forth in a total girl power anthem. Benny makes his cameo in the movie here, he’s got the whole screen to himself for a few seconds, you can’t miss him, he runs his fingers down the keyboard of a piano in a boat. And the song ends with Donna shoving both Tanya and Rosie into the water off the dock and jumping in doing a cannonball herself right afterwards and most of the women on the dock jumping in to follow.
Sophie goes to the goat house only to find the dads have already left. She races down to the dock to see the guys are on boat and she strips down to her swimsuit and jumps in to swim out to the boat. The guys invite her aboard and invite her to join them as they sail around the island. Sophie thought they might be leaving and not returning but she spends part of the day with them all to the tune of “Our Last Summer” which was moved here, and incorporates all of the dads instead of just Harry and Donna before the wedding like in the stage show. She spends a little bit of time getting to know each of them through the course of the song. She’s helping Bill with the boat, plays guitar with Harry, and draws portraits with Sam.
The day of getting to know the dads gets interrupted when Sky calls to Sophie from the beach, she jumps off the boat to swim back to the shore to meet up with him when they sing their “Lay All Your Love On Me” scene as the sun starts to set. The guys take Sky off for his dive and bachelor party and we transition into the girls at their bachelorette party to close out the song. We are then treated to the Donna and the Dynamos performance of “Super Trouper” where the dad’s arrive at the party midway through the song and stay at the periphery unnoticed by Donna until about three quarters of the way through the song. She whispers to Tanya and Rosie during the song (not at a point that would interrupt the performance) who then take glances over to where the dads are and at the conclusion of the song, Rosie steps forward to declare the party as women only.
The younger girls have a different idea grabbing the dads and bringing them into the party and tying at least one of them up to a pole all to the a finally sung version of “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” The Dynamos depart to change out of their costumes and Donna is expressing her disgust how the dads have done nothing for their daughter before being reminded by Rosie that they didn’t exactly know she existed. The line from the stage show about being muscled out by an ejaculation does make an appearance in the movie here.
Meanwhile, back at the party the girls keep the dads busy while Sophie singles them out one at a time. Sam is first and pulls out the drawing of him Sophie did earlier on the boat and tells her she has remarkable talent and she should be pursuing that instead of staying on the island to run the hotel with her mother. A noise is made from Donna’s room above, Sophie runs back to the party leaving Sam alone while the scene cuts to the ladies talking while Rosie and Donna struggle with taking Tanya’s boots off.
Back at the party, Harry manages to escape the clutches of the girls at the party and finds Sophie as he gets back on his feet from crawling under a table here there is dialogue just like in the show about wishing he had a daughter to spoil to bits and wondering if her dad was on the island and Sophie responding that she didn’t know before running off back into the party and encountering Bill who wonders how Donna got the money to build the Taverna and thinking that his Aunt Sophia’s money went to family. He then grills her on her age, then runs off down to the beach. Where through “The Name Of The Game” Sophie and Bill decide he must be her father. He volunteers to walk her down the aisle at the wedding the following day.
Back at the party it is now “Voulez Vous” time, the boys have returned from the bachelor party and the Dynamos have also rejoined the party in more comfortable attire and the other dads also come to the revelation they also must be her father and also want to walk her down the aisle. The pressure gets to Sophie who just seems to get dizzy at the center of the circles of people dancing around her and she collapses.
No “Under Attack” sequence but elements of the song pop up as incidental music later in the movie. “One Of Us” is also dropped using dialogue to replace it instead. It’s now the next morning and Donna is there to comfort Sophie, and get her to tell her what is wrong. Sophie doesn’t really want to say but Donna assumes it’s about the wedding and maybe getting second thoughts and said it’s not too late to call it off which gets Sophie upset. Sophie runs off and Donna chastises the boys who parade in drunk with the bag pipes. Sam appears after Donna takes the bag pipes inside and the usual joke about keeping the bag pipes to scare off unwelcome visitors and her not really needing bag pipes to do just that.
It’s up to here that Pierce Brosnan’s performance has been brilliant. But now that he’s trying to sing “S.O.S.” is where it gets a little painful. You have to give him credit for getting out there and doing it though. Fortunately the song doesn’t last that long although it was visually quite good with Pierce and Meryl Streep singing it from opposite sides of a wall. That image has surfaced as one of the photos from the set already released.
It’s time for the Dynamos to get up and Rosie is up and running and chipper but oh, looks like Tanya’s had better mornings. They’re supposed to keep the dad’s busy during the day to keep them away from the wedding. Rosie stands in a little boat to try and row herself out to Bill’s boat, but predictably when she’s trying to paddle out from a standing position, she ends up in the water. Still was a good laugh even though you could see it coming a mile away.
Out on the boat, there’s a moment with Bill and Harry chatting that sounds a little like a “coming out” story, even though it’s “coming out” as a Dad. The story doesn’t get too far before Rosie is eavesdropping and hears Bill say that when it comes right down to it he’s just not a commitment kind of guy. Rosie not yet known to be listening is excited to hear that. She calls out to announce her arrival and gets a peek at Bill’s bare backside as it turns out there was nothing on under the apron he’s been wearing throughout the scene.
Down at the beach we find Tanya on a paddle boat with Harry. Harry asks what a father would do at the wedding besides walk the bride down the aisle. Her response is of course, pay. After the stage show jokes about Tanya’s father drawing the line at paying at her third wedding, Harry jumps off the paddle boat and swims to shore, when Pepper climbs up the back of the paddle boat to try and continue wooing Tanya from the night before. She speed paddles the boat back to shore to say it was time for her do some renovation on her face for the wedding.
Pepper who looks like a cross between an island boy and a troll doll (complete with wild bushy hair) proceeds to woo Tanya and the whole “Does Your Mother Know” scene that does serve as a highlight in the stage show entertains here as well.
Sophie finds Sky and takes him to a secluded area to talk with Sam following covertly. Sophie proceeds to tell Sky about her dilemma about the dads and he gets upset with her about the whole wedding being a rouse to find out who her father was. The dialogue follows the stage play almost exactly here. Fortunately we’re spared Sam singing “Knowing Me, Knowing You”
Harry finds Donna preparing the courtyard for the reception after the ceremony, and he presents Donna with a check to help pay for the wedding. No joke about it being large enough to pay for four weddings and a funeral, but still an implication it’s a big check. She tries to give it back only to have him say she would have to catch him first before he runs off. Since we’ve already had “Our Last Summer” earlier in the movie, there is no need for it here. Sophie finds Donna and asks her if she would help her get ready for the wedding and give her away. Donna says that she’d be happy to and they’ve got all day to get ready.
In Donna’s room we have the “Slipping Through My Fingers” scene with Donna helping Sophie get ready. The way the scene is cut into a montage it implies a larger passing of time than done in the stage show. Parts of it include Donna and Sophie sitting on the bed reminiscing over photos, the two sharing a rocking chair in a touching mother-daughter moment and of course the getting ready for the wedding. It’s the movie’s tear jerker scene. It was very good and touching.
The group then gets ready to make their way to the church for the ceremony; Sophie is put on a donkey to ride up to the church, the entourage walks along side. Donna falls behind a little bit and Sam pulls her aside to talk to her about Sophie and the wedding where we finally get to “The Winner Takes It All” and it’s gorgeously done. Lush background imagery with the church and the sea in the background surround Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan as Donna sings about her sorrow. My only complaint with the song is that its robbed of its showstopper ending that I so love from the play. While what is shown works well for the movie, because before the song ends Donna runs up the stairs to the church which is up a lot of stairs, she would definitely be out of breath by the time she reached the top at the pace she was going up them. So the final “The Winner Takes It All” to end the song is practically whispered while clutching the side of an archway instead of going for the high note and probably could have done a Julie Andrews in the “Sound of Music” style twirl. It probably would have been a little over the top that way, but it could have been done that way.
Well once Donna’s at the top of the hill with the church we find the church is full and everyone is waiting on Donna to get the show on the road, even Sophie is waiting on Donna. Donna makes her presence known to the priest by standing in the doorway to let him know they can begin. Sophie marches down the aisle to a cleverly disguised instrumental of “Knowing Me, Knowing You” by the little wedding band in the church which consisted of a tuba and a couple other instruments. With the church being full when we get there, there was no chance to use “Take A Chance On Me” at this point in the film and I was disappointed because I didn’t want to see that song excised from the show too. Fortunately, it wasn’t it just wasn’t where it is in the stage show.
I can’t quite remember if Sam manages to get in before Sophie’s walk down the aisle or right after, but he gets in the church and while the priest is going though his speech and says Donna is here to represent Sophie’s family. Donna stops the proceedings to announce that Sophie’s dad is here too, all three dads stand up look around see all three are standing then sit down as soon as Donna reveals she doesn’t know which one of them it is. Sophie said she knows and confesses to having invited all three and not caring if Donna has slept with hundreds of men. Bill then chimes in questioning the whole he could be her dad and so could Harry and Sam. Much of it follows the same as the play, the only real difference here is that when Harry comes out of the closet there is no “Nigel” as the other half, Harry’s scored with one of the young island boys who is also in attendance at the wedding.
Sophie of course decides not to get married and Sam decides to propose to Donna. With the play version of “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” done in a very truncated version with her tongue down Sam’s throat between “I Do’s”. Now varying from the play, we then proceed to the reception in the courtyard of the Taverna and Sam stands to offer a toast, which just so happens to be “When All Is Said And Done” and fortunately it’s not all Pierce singing the whole thing but he starts it and it’s not a great vocal performance, but again he gets credit in my book for even signing on to do a role with singing, and again, it is fortunate for us, he doesn’t do a lot of it.
The song concludes in a sing along style with everyone at the reception singing it. Which then the focus shifts on to Bill sitting next to Rosie and commenting how he’s not a commitment guy and Rosie beginning to offer herself if he changes his mind. He gets up to get away, she follows. He ends up in a chair at one end of a table and she hops on the table and let’s everyone knows her feelings as she belts out “Take A Chance On Me” and makes her way down the table towards him. He ends up running again, she chases him even on rooftops of the Taverna before he ultimately gives in and catches her when she’s about to fall off. The song ends with another earthquake this time bursting a geyser out of the dolphin mosaic that cracked earlier in the movie. Now everyone at the wedding is getting soaked, the guys are taking off their shirts, and everyone is kind of going to town on each other (including Colin Firth going to town on his island boy from the wedding scene) all to the tune of “Mamma Mia”
Too bookend the movie, like the stage show, we’re again treated to “I Have A Dream” as Donna and Sam escort Sophie and Sky down to the dock to a little boat. Somewhere along the way Bill and Harry appear as well on the dock though they were not seen walking on the beach with the others and the movie is complete.
Through the credits we get Donna and the Dynamos in a black background studio performing “Dancing Queen”. This is done in many camera angles shown through several smaller windows on the screen that move around while credits pop in between. The song completes and the images become one again filling the full screen as Donna asks if people the audience wants one more song, and actually the audience responded with cheers and excitement just like in the stage show and we are treated to “Waterloo” and each of the dads also come out in their 70’s space suit outfits as well, just like in the stage show. Again is done in different angle shots moving across the screen as more credits play. Towards the end of the song there are more cast members in the scene and just before the very end, Björn makes his cameo in the movie in dead center of the people in the background. Unlike Benny, he doesn’t have the whole screen to himself for a few moments, Björn has to share, and I think he’s on the screen for a little less time as well. The shot wasn’t on long enough to notice if anyone else of importance was there as well. I did not see any sign of the girls.
And that concluded the movie. They didn’t have full credits, they only showed through the “Dancing Queen” and “Waterloo” performances. So apparently these must have been the special footage we were promised by the lady who announced at the start of the movie because the lights were up and we were handed survey forms to fill out about the movie. One of the questions of which was whether or not you considered yourself an ABBA fan and whether you considered yourself to be a big fan or not.
Overall it was a fun movie and I really can’t wait to see it again when it gets released. I’m sure I’ll probably see it more than once then too. I really enjoyed it and I really can’t wait to have the soundtrack album and the DVD too. What a treat it was to get a chance to see the movie this soon.
The cast was great, I think they all did great performances. Again, I think Pierce Brosnan’s singing was the weakest link in the movie, but didn’t detract from it too much. He was excellent every other time he was on the screen. Meryl Streep was incredible and handled the songs like a pro. Julie Walters stole the show, it’s definitely justified that she got such a prominent screen credit in the trailers. This movie is going to be fun when it hits the theaters and I truly hope it’s as much of a blockbuster success as the stage show has been.