On Reviewing “Mamma Mia!”

Rating:  3/10

Mamma Mia Poster

Back from Japan after two weeks and numerous things to write about during my absence, but I decided to skip the unpleasant (BC’s loss to Vanderbuilt), the “holy shit” (Coach Jags losing his mind), the controversial (whaling) and the painful (death) and discuss the disaster that is “Mamma Mia!” a 2008 film based on a musical and the music group of  the same name.

I watched this film while I was drunk in a Tylenol shaped transportation vehicle traveling where no living creature without wings should be with nothing better to do except be awed by how a film starring a two time Academy Award winner and James Bond himself could so spectacularly fail.  And I still hated the experience.

To be fair, I’m not a fan of musicals–or rather, musical films.  So I was disappointed by “The Producers” (2005), underwhelmed by “Hairspray” (2007), and indifferent to “Grease” (1978).

But I need to neither watch a lot of musical films or understand them to  know the performers in musicals require the ability to sing.  I once read a review of Mamma Mia! the Broadway musical in which the reviewer commented how Abba wasn’t necessarily the best singers; they were just the most popular singers in their era.  That may be so, but it’s clear the band had some singing skills because “Mamma Mia!” is what you get when you have tone deaf people sing exactly the same lyrics the band sang.

The greatest torture of the film is that it spares no screen time and actors from the horrific concert presentation.  Meryl Streep, James Bond, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Julie Waters, Dominic Cooper, and Christin Baranski, seven of the eight actors who occupy 95% of the screen time, all sing.  I can only assume that the remaining one, Amanda Seyfried, was the sole actor selected by the producers with singing ability as a consideration.  Watching the film, I wished the director had shown the courtesy of having the actors lip-sing à la “High School Musical” (2006).

I can’t put all the blame on the actors for the travesty that is this film–their only mistake was accepting the roles they were offered.  The catastrophe of this magnitude can only be achieved through a collaborative effort, and in this film the screenwriters and the choreographer shouldered plenty of responsibility and blame.  Separate and apart from the cliché dialogue even Denzel Washington couldn’t pull off, an absurd ending (Why don’t the fathers insist on a paternity test?  Why is one father apparently gay?  Why are two fathers okay with one marrying the mother if they care so much for the [non]-daughter?  The ultimately meaningless questions one is forced to ponder are endless), and a plot I couldn’t care less about if this was the last film I was permitted to watch before my execution, it was shocking how incompetently the songs were incorporated into the storyline.  I understand the problem was the tail wagging the dog: the whole premise required the writers to put a film together out of songs which have  no relation to each other and which were not designed to be a musical.  But transitions to “Money, Money, Money” and “Take a Chance on Me” in particular were so clumsy it lacked any sense of a smooth and natural transitioned from the dialogues.  Certainly one can do better than “I don’t have enough money” – cut to the “Money, Money, Money” routine.

Then there’s the choreography, whose randomness was as annoying as its ineptness.  Why is there a song routine with bunch of guys lining up with flippers?  Isn’t it possible to dance without waving arms in the air like a drugged-up hippie who  hopes to be carried away by the wind?  The only other time I recall being this annoyed while watching a musical was during “Chicago” (2002), but that was no fault of the producers–I simply have an utter personal disdain for Renee Zellweger.  With “Mamma Mia,” the fault lay entirely with the creators of the film.

I hated every single character of the film–particularly the two friends of a character played by Streep, and hence, by relation, Streep’s character as well.  But why go into the long, detailed explanation of why I hated them when the film otherwise so fantastically failed in ways no prior musical film managed to do?  Cheesy and bad are not necessarily synonymous.  No films prove the point better than “Mamma Mia!” and “High School Musical,” which is a masterpiece in comparison.

“Mamma Mia!” is available on DVD, having mercifully concluded its run in the theatres.


4 Responses to “On Reviewing “Mamma Mia!””

  1. 1 Chris Schroeck January 6, 2009 at 8:51 am

    I’m glad you’re back to posting.

    I haven’t seen this movie yet, and I guess now I probably won’t. I have seen a lot of musical movies and there are very few that I have liked. I did like Chicago, actually. It was well-done.

    Hairspray – crap, The Producers is an entertaining story but the music isn’t very good. Dreamgirls was pretty bad story-wise, although there was some good singing.

    Some of the best musical movies, in my opinion, are the old Disney animated musical movies, like, for instance, “The Little Mermaid”, or “The Lion King”. The music in those was always well-integrated and they had good singers doing the vocals.

    I also like that you call Pierce Brosnan “James Bond”.

  2. 2 joesas January 6, 2009 at 9:19 am


    Glad that someone eagerly anticipates my posts. LOL. Thanks for continuing to read and comment.

    You and I are on the same boat when it comes to musicals, and I have to say Producers is the only one I had any expectations for. I probably would have liked Chicago if I didn’t hate that woman so much.

    You bring up an excellent point about the old Disney films. I think I agree with you. They are a perfect examples of how to achieve successful transitions from dialogue to music. Mamma Mia! they ain’t.

    Once a Bond, always a Bond. Even George Lazenby.

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