Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
“Mamma Mia!” is the type of musical where everyone breaks out into song at the drop of a hat, which isn’t particularly disturbing in itself, except that these are lavish musical numbers, choreographed rather unimaginatively and mostly ending by everyone jumping into the sea or “falling down from exhaustion.” The lack of inventive choreography isn’t surprising considering that the most successful musicals have thrived on copying what has worked in the past, and even its original concept of basing a musical on the musical library of ABBA, possibly one of the lamest pop groups in the history of musicyes, you read that rightis hindered by the silly premise of a single mother not knowing which of three men sired her daughter after 20 years.
The story and characters aren’t particularly well-developed, going mostly for stereotypes, and a brief glimpse at the three men from the past makes you question when and how this story could possibly take place. If Donna slept with them 20 years prior, why are they dressed like hippies or a metal rocker, as is the case with Colin Firthy’s “Headbanger” Harry Bright. The latter would make one assume that Donna originally met them sometime in the ’80s, except that since they’re all clearly in their 50s, they’d all be in their 30s when they met, 20 years before, and one would expect they’d already be well into their current careers. The film’s humor doesn’t aim much higher than the one-dimensional one-joke characters, going for the most obvious physical gags or double entendres in order to cater to the level of intelligence of the tourists who flocked to the original musical.
Meryl Streep phones her performance in, seemingly “having fun” while remaining oblivious to the weak material and bland writing, though she does have one true “Meryl Streep moment” when she sings “The Winner Takes It All” to Brosnan. It’s such an obvious ploy for an “Oscar clip reel scene” played up for drama to show off Streep’s acting chops that are nowhere to be found elsewhere in the movie, as she embarrasses herself rolling around and acting like a giggly schoolgirl. Christine Baranski isn’t bad with her one standout number, while Julie Walters offers the film’s only genuine comic relief even if her singing leaves a lot to be desired. Either way, it’s not even remotely credible that Streep and her gal pals could ever have once been a vocal group.
Some of the best moments involve Amanda Seyfried, a pretty and talented young actress who can actually sing, unlike some of the more experienced older cast with Brosnan being particularly embarrassing. To put it quite bluntly, the former James Bond cannot sing and the thought that someone felt he could pass muster with his charming albeit atonal delivery is unconscionable. Colin Firth seems much more comfortable with the far-too-familiar role of “awkward guy” and fits in much better by acting as uncomfortable as any straight male viewers who’ll be alternating between boredom and exasperation at having to endure such incessant silliness.
Otherwise, you’re given a choice of watching a bunch of old-timers make fools of themselves or a bunch of vapid pretty young Broadway types joining in the musical “fun” whenever the mood or the recognizable intro kicks in. Eventually, the creators realize they’ve spent too much time trying to force pointless musical numbers down your throat while doing absolutely nothing to move the story forward and they finally get back to the flimsy plot. By then you’ve already been forced into drooling submission by the ABBA overkill making it clear that most of this movie’s problems can be traced back to the original source material.
The Bottom Line: