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Mamma Mia: A Movie to Laugh At (Not With)

The big-screen version of the ABBA musical Mamma Mia must be seen to be disbelieved.

The script, which is about a young bride-to-be on a Greek island who invites three men (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgaard) who might be her father to the nuptials without telling her mother (Meryl Streep), is quick to clarify what is on its mind. Firth and Brosnan are stranded while waiting for a, er, ferry. Colin turns to Pierce to say, “Bugger!” but instead of replying, “No, thank you,” Pierce says, “My sentiments exactly.” Firth, upping the ante, says, “Bollocks!” Brosnan: “My sentiments exactly.” This kind of saucy flirtation hasn’t been seen at the movies since C-3PO first met R2-D2.

The ABBA songs of Mamma Mia are perhaps not the favored anthems of your local rugby squad or Navy SEAL unit to begin with; few are the countries that have been invaded while Voulez-Vous blasts out of the Hummvee, though if ever we have cause to invade Belgium, Waterloo would seem the obvious choice. Nevertheless, the realization of the songs is beyond camp. This is a musical comedy with terrible jokes (“I grew up.” “Then grow back down again”) that is nevertheless hilarious.

Who will ever forget the sight of Streep on a sun-splashed rooftop, writhing suggestively (!) in her overalls, to the title song? Or Streep, again, moving blockily to accompany herself on the goodbye ballad The Winner Takes It All, spinning around on a rock and finally balling up her shawl and flouncing away in a huff of self-pity? When Brosnan, in his blinding white pants, attempts to burst “dramatically” into a doorway so he can croak out, S.O.S., I for one have seldom laughed harder. A laugh is a laugh, and to laugh at (not with) Mamma Mia is irresistible. Brosnan, who is supposed to be American but puts out about one-eighth of the effort necessary to nail the accent, will also be glimpsed loosely pumping his fist in the air while crying “Whoo-whoo-whoo!”

A scene in which the groom’s shirtless beach blanket buddies, who are throwing him a bachelor party, peel him away from his bride in order to force him to join their merry band as they goose-step along the dock, while wearing flippers, with maximal flapping of arms, suggests a re-enactment of the invasion of the Sudetenland conducted by the Village People during a weekend on Fire Island. (Stay through the closing credits for more. I am talking about Brosnan in a royal blue skin-tight chest-baring jumpsuit that Liberace would have described as a bit much.)

Firth keeps saying things like, “I’d quite like to freshen up” and “Might I be shown my room now?” and “There wouldn’t by any chance happen to be a trouser press down here?” No doubt you are correcting me in your mind: “Not gay. Just British.” I’ve forgotten so please remind me: what exactly is the difference?

There are times when Mamma Mia makes Hairspray seem like Magnum Force by comparison. I have no reason to suspect Meryl Streep is a gay man, but did RuPaul write her dialogue? Wielding a power drill, she is asked if she’s “getting any,” at which point she powers up the drill and says, “Down boy!” She also worries about “A crack in my courtyard,” but do we really want to hear about her crack?

Much of the talk is far worse. Did I really hear the words, “I won’t be muzzled by an ejaculation?” And, “Harry’s talked Tanya into water sports!” and “He’s all mouth and no trousers” and “Get the meat out of the heat”? Still, I could praise all of this and more if only the movie had provided me with a warning to avert my eyes before it provided a shuddery glimpse of Skarsgaard’s butt cheeks.

The Streep character and her battle-ax friends (Julie Walters, Christine Baranski) sing into vacuum cleaners and hair dryers in Dancing Queen, then strut around in pyramid formation. Everyone and everything is “fabulous” or “gorgeous” or “a little minx,” and at a, well, climactic moment a geyser busts out of the floor and bare-chested boys revel in it, in slow motion. Walters is definitely onto something when she says, “It’s very Greek.” Really, what kind of movie borrows its plot from the 80s miniseries Lace? All that is missing is a scene in which the bride asks, “Which one of you three bitches is my father?”

Mamma Mia

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgaard, Meryl Streep, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski

2 stars/ 4

108 minutes/Rated PG-13