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Passable singing, great music bring a family together in "Mamma Mia!"

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Since "Mamma Mia!" burst onto the stage at London's West End nearly a decade ago, tens of millions of fans have left theatres throughout the world singing the music of 1970s Swedish pop band ABBA. This joyous, feel-good musical revolutionized contemporary musical theater, spurning a series of other jukebox musicals - shows that feature popular songs, usually by one musician, as the score - including "All Shook Up," the wildly popular "Jersey Boys" and "Movin' Out."

So naturally, it was only a matter of time before "Mamma Mia!" was brought to Hollywood. Following the lead of fellow stage-musicals-turned-movies "Chicago,?VbCrLf "Sweeney Todd?VbCrLf and "Hairspray,?VbCrLf producers chose a megastar cast that, despite its finely honed acting chops, has, for the most part, little or no experience singing. And while some of the leads pull it off, listening to others is downright cringe-worthy.

The story is simple, sweet and only somewhat believable: 20-year-old Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) longs to know who her father is -- her mother, Donna (Meryl Streep), had a wild month with three different men around the time she was conceived -- so she secretly invites each to her wedding. In true musical comedy form, her assumption is that once she sees them she will instantly "know?VbCrLf which one is really her dad, and then the pair will have a joyous, bonding-filled weekend that culminates with him walking his brand-new daughter down the aisle.

Obviously, this plan doesn't work out as well as Sophie imagined. Once the three men arrive, she has no idea which is which, and Donna is less than pleased at the unexpected appearance of her three ex-boyfriends. Most of the remainder of the film consists of the characters either looking for or hiding from each other, all set to the tune of bouncy ABBA hits that include "Dancing Queen,?VbCrLf "Honey Honey,?VbCrLf "Super Troupers,?VbCrLf "SOS?VbCrLf and, naturally, "Mamma Mia.?VbCrLf

Seyfried is an absolute joy to watch throughout the movie. Though her singing is just passable, she exudes such raw, hopeful joy in each scene that it's impossible not to like her.ÿ

Her potential dads (played by Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard), on the other hand, struggle noticeably with the music, Brosnan in particular. Fortunately, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters, who play Donna's old best friends Tanya and Rosie, are much more adept at making their way through simple choreography and harmonies.ÿ

There are holes in the plotline as well. Most of the costumes seem to indicate that the film is set in the present, yet Donna doesn't seem to know what the Internet is.

But to most of those who will be attending the movie - a fairly homogeneous crowd of overenthusiastic middle-aged women (occasionally accompanied by a self-conscious, trailing husband or gay friend) -- it just doesn't matter. At the end of the day, Mamma Mia! is a happy, feel-good film that, when you don't think too much about it, will leave audiences smiling.


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