Mamma Mia Review
Let me start with an admission. I’ve seen Mamma Mia on the stage three times!! The first time was to see what all the fuss was about and then I took friends visiting from overseas on two separate occasions to see it because, along with Phantom of the Opera, it seems to be the most popular show with tourists. And now another admission. I hated it all three times. I don’t know about you, but when I pay £60 to see a show I want to see and hear the action on stage and not listen to 20 hen parties treating it like a karaoke night down their local pub. You see, people who go and see the show seem to think that it is obligatory to sing along to every song and get out of their seats and dance, in that embarrassingly middle aged mum at a wedding way, when ever the tempo picks up.
So I wasn’t exactly looking forward to seeing the new big screen version, where the only real difference is that real life Greek locales replace the rather minimalist set. With ear plugs in my pocket, just in case, I ventured to the cinema to witness some very highly paid Hollywood stars stretch their vocal chords. Meryl Streep plays Donna, an American woman living on a picturesque Greek island, who runs a tourist free guest house along with her soon to be wed daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried). After a spot of teenage snooping Sophie discovers that her absent father could be one of three men, so with scant regard for consequences she sets about inviting them all to her nuptials. Arriving on cue are the stiff shirted Brit (Colin Firth), the suave businessman (Pearce Brosnan) and the salty Swedish sea dog (Stellan Skarsgard) none of whom are aware of the reason for their invites. Also along for the ride are Donna’s old mates Julie Walters and Christine Baranski, who are the very definition of what the gay community would call “fag hags”.
Will Sophie marry the man of her dreams? Will Donna remember who the father of her child is? Can the cast all carry a tune? Well, two out of three isn’t bad! As while plot points are satisfactorily resolved the question of the cast's singing ability is quite another matter. For the first half hour of the film I wanted to run screaming from the cinema and report its makers for crimes against both cinema and music. The direction is flat and stagy, the performances are so over the top they are half way down the other side and, despite actually being filmed in Greece, a lot of the action looks like it took place in a back lot at Pinewood under a strong sun lamp. It's no exaggeration to say that for that first half hour Mamma Mia is on its way to joining the list of top 10 worst films of the year. And then, around the time that the entire female population of the island dance down to the dock singing Dancing Queen, something quite amazing started to happen. I started to really enjoy the damn thing. My feet started tapping, in my head I was boisterously singing along with every word and by the time Donna is singing “Slipping Through My Fingers” to Sophie on the day of her wedding I was crying like a teenage girl at a Dirty Dancing convention.
It’s hard to know exactly what happened. Admittedly the acting does settle down quite a bit but in the main it goes on in much the same way that it started. The singing, with the exception of Meryl Streep, is pretty awful, and you’ve heard nothing until your ears have been assaulted by Brosnan murdering “S.O.S”, but I have the feeling that’s the whole point. In the hands of professional singers this would have been a very bland and sterile affair whereas here you actually start to believe that these are real characters just bursting into song. Streep does have the tendency to sing the songs as though she was singing something by Harold Pinter rather than a 70’s pop song, most notable in her rendition of “The Winner takes It All”, although the upside of that is that it does make you realise just how moving and emotional the songs of ABBA actually were and still can be.
In the end this is still a poorly directed, overacted kitsch mess. However, it is also the most fun you will have in the cinema this year and I dare you to try and resist its charms. I guarantee that by the time the cast come back for a very theatrical sing along in full ABBA costumes you will want to stand on your seat and sing along like your parents at a wedding karaoke. Go on…… take a chance on it.