Maim Mama!

Theatre director Phyllida Llloyd makes her feature debut with this starry-cast but horribly saccharine adaptation of the stage musical, based on the lyrics of Abba songs.

The story of Mamma Mia! is wafer thin. Meryl Streep plays Donna, a fifty-something former showgirl who owns a dilapidated hotel on a Greek Island. Her twenty year old daughter Sophie, played by Amanda Seyfried (the dippy blonde in Mean Girls) is about to marry her sweetheart Sky (Dominic Cooper), with the ceremony to be held at the hotel. Having read her mother’s secret diary, Sophie has discovered that her father could have been one of three former lovers that Donna met over the course of a very busy month years before. Desperate to meet her father before her marriage, she invites all three, (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård) to come to the island. Thus met, the gang then race around looking for reasons to sing Abba songs - lyrics crammed to fit the situation - before a predictably sweet and sun-kissed conclusion. For ‘Dancing Queen’, they have a dance and crown a queen. ‘I Have A Dream’ allows Sophie dreams of her real dad. 'Money, Money Money' brings about a discussion of the hotel’s precarious finances. On it goes, a race through twenty songs from the back catalogue, each of the principals getting their moment in centre stage, the story trailing along behind them.

So it’s rubbish. Upbeat, inoffensive and determined to entertain, but rubbish nonetheless. The biggest challenge of any musical is integrating the songs into an interesting, credible story; so it feels ‘natural’ when the actors suddenly break into song. That never happens here. Mamma Mia! is jazzed-up karaoke, a feeble excuse to run through the Abba classics, hanging limply from the bare branches of a gossamer story.

Streep, who last sang on screen in Postcards From The Edge, has a fine, clear voice, with her natural exuberance covering most of Donna’s character inadequacies. Likewise, Julie Walters gives it both barrels as best friend Rosie, belting out her numbers and kicking her heels to disguise a shaky, uninvolving presence. As the pairs preening rich-bitch friend Tanya, comedienne Christine Baranski carries most of the film’s sense of camp, a burden that proves too much for her.

From the men, only Pierce Brosnan shows any sign of having twigged the ridiculous nature of proceedings. He nervously warbles his way through a few numbers, his strained expression and awkward movements betraying his acute discomfort. Firth, as the millionaire lawyer Harry, plays a former punk but that still doesn’t excuse his tuneless screeching. As the adventurer Bill, Stellan Skarsgård doesn’t even attempt an entire number, wisely delivering his few lines in a croaking sing-song and hiding somewhere during the more bombastic set-pieces.

If the singing is a disappointment, the unconvincing sets and chocolate-box photography are even more so; the airy, fluent location exteriors crassly matched with the over-lit, unconvincing studio settings. Director Lloyd, who originated the stage show, lacks the basic technical and narrative skills to make the film bounce. A broad, flat and silly film, Mamma Mia! is strictly for the fans.


MJ said...

Hilarious review - this one I heard you on the radio about, and just from your scathing (but fair sounding!) review I actually want to see it now! A musical-fanatic friend has already been to see it - and sang along with the rest of the audience - and cannot stop raving about it. It might be fun to see it, just for the laugh...

MJ said...

PS - can't wait to hear your Wall|E review - get to a cinema!

clom said...

dear john,

i thank you for this review.
i hope that this will put the kibosh on her majesty's nefarious plans to go to this at the weekend!

Movie Maniac said...

Hi John,

Hadn't read any reviews before I went 'cos I was on holidays but I'm glad I went to see it for myself. Greek tragedy is how I'd sum it up. Pierce Brosnan is to singing what Eddie the Eagle is to skiing and unless you fancy the idea of 3 Shirley Valentines on speed, stay well clear.