Film review: Mamma Mia! (2008), directed by Phyllida Lloyd
This hit West End musical turned film is about Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), who is about to get married to Sky (Dominic Cooper). They live on a Greek island where the sun always shines and Sophie’s bohemian mum Donna (Meryl Streep) is in charge of a run-down guesthouse. Only one thing is missing from the Perfect Wedding: a father to give away the bride.
According to Donna’s old diary, Sophie has narrowed it down to three candidates: the adventurous Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), the suave Sam (Pierce Brosnan) and the uptight, upper class, play-it-safe Harry (Colin Firth). Sophie invites all three to the island wedding without her mother knowing, although she soon finds out.
Singing Murdering of ABBA songs ensues. And lots of dancing.
Also starring Julie Walters as Rosie and Christine Baranski as Tanya, with cameos by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus (a.k.a. the only thing in this film that cheered me up).
ABBA once sang “I Have A Dream”. I’d like to change that to “I Have A Nightmare”. There’s no doubt Mamma Mia! the stage musical is uplifting, colourful and just good, harmless fun. It seems to be the consensus of people who have seen it, at any rate. I know two who went to see it in the West End and they were positively ecstatic on the way back to the hotel.
As a film, and this is the important part, it doesn’t translate well at all. It’s a nonsensical mess. If you’ve seen the French and Saunders Red Nose Day parody (it’s on YouTube), you’ve seen this film … except the parody is better. And shorter.
We can talk about how they hired big name actors for their names rather than their singing talents – most of them get by pretty well, I happen to think, but there are exceptions. Everyone seems to like taking the micky out of Pierce Brosnan, and while he’s not exactly Elvis, his vocal talents are nothing compared to those of Colin Firth. If I could just take Mr Darcy’s cravat and stuff it in my ears, that would improve things considerably.
I once asked for this DVD for Christmas, because it’s a romantic comedy and as an old ABBA fan, I felt obliged to have it. I never got around to seeing it until we were on a bus on the way back from a hen do at Ascot. Wow, what a deplorable film! When I saw it was on TV recently I thought I’d give it another go, just for the sake of argument, but no, my first impression still stands: Mamma Mia! is an awful film.
Granted, we got off on the wrong foot, no two ways about it. While I fell in love with ABBA’s music at the age of about eight or so (the big early 1990s ABBA revival happened maybe a year or two after my eureka moment), I have always fervently abhorred ABBA covers. Here’s a film entirely based on ABBA covers. (Didn’t Muriel’s Wedding at least have the decency to play the original versions?)
Not just that, but the singing! For crying out loud, I could do a better job than some of them! And I don’t exactly class myself as a brilliant singer. In fact, if I went on The X-Factor and got asked if I thought I could win, the reply would be “LOL no”, thus defeating the object of auditioning. But to think the movie-going public would be better at singing than some of the stars of the film is very, very sad. Couldn’t they have hired people for their actual singing talents first, and names second? It’s not as if acting talent is really required. All you need to do is to be able to smile all the time.
If you take that as WHY OH WHY IS ACTING LEGEND MERYL STREEP DOING THIS, then yes, that’s what I was going for. Seriously, Meryl. 17 Oscar nominations for best performance, of which three were wins, and you do … this?! I’m not a Meryl Streep fangirl, but I appreciate her acting talent, which is why I wonder why on earth she decided to do this film. Although, I suppose every actor needs a break and do something silly once in a while just for fun.
The film at times doesn’t know if it’s going for musical romcom or just trying to be a very long music video. The Money Money Money montage is a case in point. It’s a music video, not a part of a film’s storytelling.
Because it’s based on a musical, certain things that would work on stage as being quirky and fun just falls flat and ridiculous on screen, i.e. every time the ensemble is required. The bill-waving locals (Money Money Money again, I think) is one of those things that wouldn’t happen in real life, and therefore doesn’t work on film, even if it would make narrative sense in a stage musical. It’s forced, it doesn’t make sense, and it’s just downright awful.
No, Mamma Mia! is definitely not a good film, however feel-good it is. It’s a bit of harmless fun, sure, but if I wanted that I could have just as easily gone for something that’s actually funny, that doesn’t require my disbelief suspended beyond belief. I mean: a) FFS, just get a DNA test! b) Unless Donna had sex with all three men within a fortnight, surely simple arithmetic would pinpoint who the father is? “I had sex with X in January, Y in February and Z in March. Baby’s born in October, November or December? November, so odds are Y is the father.” This is not difficult. c) “I’ve only ever loved Donna but now that I see her again I realise I’ve been a closeted homosexual the past 20 years without having the slightest inkling!”
Yuchhh. And don’t get me started on Donna’s desperate friends.
It’s a hysterical, shallow, meaningless spectacle. Hysterical in the sense that plenty of women scream a lot, which is such a lazy stereotype. I’m female, and while I’m neither 20 nor middle aged like the women in the film, I love romantic comedies, and I love ABBA songs … when they’re sung by ABBA. This film should be something I enjoy tremendously, and yet it really isn’t. It’s a waste of a lot of good actors. I don’t mind entertainment for the sake of just being entertained, but I have some goddamn standards.
THIS FILM SHOULD BE BETTER BUT IT ISN’T.
1 out of 5 fathers.