While Mamma Mia! The Movie isn't the worst movie I’ve watched and reviewed this year, it was one of the most difficult to get through. This is coming from a guy who watched both Disaster Movie and Beethoven’s Big Break. The delay in getting this review written, in fact, was in large part due to my reluctance to go back to the movie when I was interrupted after watching the first 15 minutes. It literally took a week to reload the disc and sit through this homage to the music of ABBA and overacting.
I was never a fan of ABBA, considering them pretty lightweight even for pop music, which I love. So when Mamma Mia, the smash London and Broadway musical based on their music was touring, it didn’t hold any interest for me. The same was true of the movie version starring Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan. Finally the DVD showed up on my doorstep and I just couldn’t avoid it any longer. It turns out I was right to put this off as long as possible.
ABBA, obviously, didn’t write a Broadway musical. They wrote pop songs. So the plot, as such, of Mamma Mia! mainly serves to get to the next musical number. Streep is Donna, the proprietor of a hotel on an idyllic Greek island who had three lovers in her youth. Now her daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), is going to get married and wants to have her father give her away. Since her father could be any one of the three mentioned in her mother’s diary, Sophie invites them all! Dutifully Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Harry (Colin Firth), and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård) arrive for the wedding. Donna, unaware they are coming, has invited her two closest friends, Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters) who used to sing with her in a group called Donna and the Dynamos.
The remainder of the film involves Donna in borderline hysterics at the arrival of the three old lovers, Sophie attempting to determine which her father is, and everyone getting ready for the upcoming nuptials. Every five minutes or so, someone breaks into an ABBA song like “Mamma Mia,” “The Winner Takes it All,” “Take a Chance on Me,” or “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” The songs are the real reason the movie (and play) exists, so anyone who isn’t already a fan will find themselves in musical hell with 22 ABBA numbers sung by actors of various musical abilities. The plot, courtesy of the play’s author, Catherine Johnson, doesn’t have much going for it other than to align the action close enough that the ABBA numbers make sense.
Baranski and Seyfriend (and to a lesser degree Streep) acquit themselves well with the musical numbers, but everyone else runs the gamut from barely ok (Firth) to horrible (Brosnan.) Imagine you got a group of random friends together and put on a bunch of 70’s pop records and told them to sing. Some would be fine and some would suck. That’s about what happens here. Even Streep, who does ok with the peppier numbers, is out of her league with the emotional “The Winner Takes it All.” Her performance results more in embarrassed laughter than anything intended by the scene.
While the musical numbers (the whole point of this movie, remember) are a mixed bag, the transitional scenes are almost uniformly bad. Overacting, mugging, hysterical laughter, hysterical crying, and squealing are the order of the day for Donna and her friends and Sophie and hers. I saw this mostly as a chick flick with music, but it almost seems insulting to women, showing them to be overly-laughing ninnies. Director Phyllida Lloyd, imported from the stage show and helming her first film, either encouraged the kind of overacting that isn’t necessary on film the way it is in a large theater or was unwilling to reign in her star (Streep is, by far, the worst offender.) It was probably a little of both.
There are a few catchy tunes, and the camaraderie of the three men combined with Seyfried’s wonderful performance don’t save the movie, but do keep it from being a total disaster. The stage show and this movie have been a world wide mega-hit, but unless you can’t get enough ABBA (or annoying laughing jags) in your life, you’re better off skipping it.
The giant box-office numbers have emboldened the producers to release Mamma Mia! The Movie is a two disc Special Edition. Most of the extras are on the second disc, but there are a few things along with the movie on the first.
Director Phyllida Lloyd provides a commentary track. It’s kinda slow although she does try to explain things that are happening and give background or tidbits about certain scenes. In the end I couldn’t quite tell if it was her somewhat soft voice, the perfunctory explanations, or just my dislike of the movie, but I was glad when I didn’t have to listen to the commentary anymore.
The first disc also includes a sing-along feature. The lyrics to the songs show up, allowing you to sing along. Unfortunately, the lyrics are BIG and end up obscuring about a third of the picture in an annoying yellow color. So, even if you need the lyrics to sing along, it will probably bug you when they show up. The first disc also has a deleted song, “The Name of the Game,” sung by Seyfried. That’s about the best you can hope for when it comes to musical numbers, but I don’t much care for the song itself.
The second disc kicks off with about eight minutes of deleted scenes. The scenes all run together with no explanation of where they should go, but it doesn’t make that much difference. The first five minutes or so are extended scenes of the three potential fathers leaving where they live to head to Greece. There is no music and not much dialogue so it’s really pretty boring. There are also some outtakes but they aren’t as fun as a well edited gag reel.
The rest of the second disc is fine, although pretty basic. The 25 minute “making of” follows the movie from its stage play origins to most of the behind-the-scenes stuff and interviews you’d expect. It’s supplemented by four additional extras that focus in on specific areas of the movie. “On Location in Greece” is four minutes and the location director talks about finding the perfect Greek Island (actually two islands) to shoot the movie. “Anatomy of a Musical Number” spends five minutes on the “Lay All Your Love on Me” number. It will give you yet another chance to see Dominic Cooper, who plays Sophie’s boyfriend, without his shirt.
The other two segments are “Becoming a Singer” and “Behind the Scenes with Amanda.” Both are pretty self-explanatory. The ten minute “Becoming the Singer” puts the musical rehearsals and ABBA’s Benny Anderson center stage. It’s ironic when you hear how the songs are difficult to sing and then think about some of the lousy performances in the film, but this is all about accentuating the positive. “Behind the Scenes with Amanda” is…uh….behind the scenes with…uh….Amanda.
The rest of the extras are pretty marginal. There is a three minute “Look Inside Mamma Mia! The Movie. It’s not really a look inside; it’s a commercial that was clearly meant to be shown in theaters prior to the film’s release. There is also a music video for “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” with Seyfried handling lead vocals. Finally there are cameos by both Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA in the film and one extra shows Ulvaeus’ cameo, which must have been cut from the film.
The Special Edition also has a digital copy of the movie in case you want to hear Pierce Brosnan massacre “SOS” on your iPod. Huge ABBA fans or big fans of the show who would love to hear the songs sung less well by more famous actors should go ahead and pick up this DVD, but everyone else would be better off ignoring this whole project.