Mamma Mia! is clearly a film made by people who love ABBA. This is evidenced by their absolute conviction that ABBA songs, even ABBA songs sung and staged horribly, require absolutely no other ingredients to make an enjoyable feature film.
The actors on the screen are presumably there because of their love of ABBA too; they’re surely not there for the credibility it will lend them or the paycheck – it looks like it has the budget of an advert for a second rate kitchen cleaner. We know why Meryl is there though; according to interviews she took the part because she wanted to embarrass her children. Well she certainly succeeded. In fact she embarrassed all the children. And by that I don’t mean minors, I mean people who are the offspring of other people.
But watching Meryl prance around in dungarees pales in comparison to the almighty cringe that is Pierce Brosnan attempting to sing. He sounds like Tom Waits having his prostate examined and his performance here makes the ice fortress in Die Another Day look realistic. Add in Colin Firth, Julie Walters and Stellan Skarsgard (last seen on Screen Goblin in Nymphomaniac), who are about as music literate as the Taliban, and you have a cast who must all really really love ABBA.
The thinner-than-clingfilm plot is based around stringing together ABBA songs with as little effort as possible short of just reading out a track listing. In order to find her father, a young woman (Amanda Seyfried) stages a wedding on a Greek island and lures three of her mother’s ex-lovers there with the suggestion of re-kindling their old romance, when actually she plans to trap them there and make them sing ABBA songs.
The set-up is reminiscent of The Island of Doctor Moreau, but instead of turning the inhabitants of the island in to animals, robbing them of their humanity, it turns them into sequin-wearing ABBA fans, robbing them of their grip on reality. The plot couldn’t be flimsier if it was written on Sainsbury’s Basics loo roll.
The musical numbers that form this film’s backbone basically amount to a line of dialogue which happens to include an ABBA song. The characters then stop talking, sing that ABBA song, then go back to whatever they were doing. Most musicals make some attempt to weave their songs into a full score, but Mamma Mia! has no need for such frivolities. It gets a karaoke version of ABBA Gold and hits play every time someone happens to say ‘money, money, money’ or ‘Chiquitita’ in a sentence. It’s amazing there isn’t a character called Fernando.
And for when an ABBA hit just won’t fit? Well luckily Streep, Dench and Christine Baranski are all in an ABBA tribute act or something. Why not just make the whole film about an ABBA tribute act? It would certainly make a lot more sense.
Is it fun? Is it so bad it’s good? Well it’s certainly laugh out loud funny from beginning to end, but it’s hard to tell where tongue-in-cheek ends, and inept screen writing and soap opera standard direction begin. It has to be one of the worst all round films ever made, but unlike other some other contenders (Revolver, Over the Top, Batman v Superman, Mac and Devan go to High School, Attack of the Clones, Plan 9 From Outer Space) it delivers enough hilarity to compensate, at least enough for one viewing. Or if you’re pressed for time, just watch the barely exaggerated French and Saunders version below.