Film Review: Mamma Mia!

2008-09-01 00:00

Mamma Mia! has been a phenomenally successful stage musical, seen and acclaimed by millions worldwide. The musical is based around the songs of Abba, and the plot is therefore rather contrived, but if done well, you wouldn’t notice because the songs would carry it. This is not the case with this movie adaptation, which opted for an A-list Hollywood cast rather than actual singers. The problem isn’t the music, though; it’s the desperation with which this movie tries to have fun.

Meryl Streep stars as lonely single mother Donna who runs a crumbling hotel on a beautiful Greek island. Her daughter Sophie is getting married, and wants her father to be there. Only problem is, she doesn’t know who her father is and there are three likely candidates. So Sophie invites them all (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgaard), without Donna knowing, and of course all sorts of hijinks and humourous misunderstandings ensue, all punctuated by the Abba numbers.

This movie is so full of disappointments it’s hard to know where to begin. I love musicals, the camper the better, and Abba is a guilty pleasure of mine, albeit one I prefer in moderation. Mamma Mia! is a musical of the kind where innocent bystanders suddenly break out in choreography, and it’s as camp as a Sunday newspaper arts critic: so far so good. But the cast seem to have been instructed to turn up the energy, dammit, and the result is a frenetic hodge podge of cheesy music, crappy dance routines and the desperate rictus grins of the cast, Streep barrelling her way through it all with an affected, twitchy winsomeness. At least she can sing. Pierce Brosnan can’t. Not only that, but you can tell by his expression of profound discomfort that he’s aware of this. I’ve always thought Christine Baranski criminally underrated and she at least carries off her numbers with aplomb.

At a self-indulgent 108 minutes, Mamma Mia! feels like one number too many. **

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