Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) lives on a remote Greek island with her ex-rock star mother Donna (Meryl Streep). She is about to marry the British bo-hunk Sky (Dominic Hooper), and she really wants her dad to give her away. Unfortunately, Sophie doesn't know who her father is. Finding her mother's diary, she invites the three men Donna was involved with at the time. Bill (Stellan Skarsgård) writes travel guides, while Sam (Pierce Brosnan) and Harry (Colin Firth) are a big time businessman and banker, respectively. Naturally, Donna is dumbfounded to see her exes. Even worse, when she discovers Sophie's motives, it will take her best friends/former back-up singers Rosie (Julie Walters) and Tanya (Christine Baranski) to save the day... and the wedding.
Mamma Mia! is the worst-directed "good" movie ever. If it wasn't for the effervescent charms of ABBA's sparkling songs, and the brave earnestness of the uniformly superb cast, it would be an unbridled disaster. No matter her impressive theatrical résumé, director Phyllida Lloyd is the song and dance version of Uwe Boll. Her choices behind the lens are so shockingly bad, and her grasp of cinematic language so surprisingly weak, that you wonder how amazing this movie would have been had someone with a modicum of moviemaking skill shown up to take control.
A prime example of Lloyd's motion picture incompetence comes toward the very end, when Streep is singing her heart out to "The Winner Takes It All." It's an emotional moment, the pinnacle ballad in a character's crazed, out-of-control life. As the Oscar winner delivers a knock-out performance, her delicate gestures giving way to facial expressions racked with regret, Lloyd circles the actress, her camera constantly swirling around the action. By the fourth or fifth revolution, we want the visual merry-go-round to stop, if only to give Streep a chance to connect. But instead, the audience must endure more whirling dervish nonsense before a final shot saves everything.
Much of Mamma Mia! is like this, random moments of acting/musical brilliance boondoggled by Lloyd's aggravating designs. A pier-side chorus line of "liberated" ladies really sells "Dancing Queen," even if our filmmaker can't capture the moment properly for maximum impact. Our young lovers sing "Lay All Your Love on Me" with the appropriate passion, even as their director adds goofy men in scuba gear as a Monty Python-like distraction.
And remember, this is a good movie, a film buoyed by ABBA's undeniably infectious music. The minute one of their classic kitsch hits comes cascading across the speakers, all flaws are forgiven, carried away on puffy cotton candy clouds of pop chart charms. It's hard to maintain a sour attitude with '70s staples like "S.O.S.," "Super Trouper," or "Take a Chance on Me" bouncing in your brain. And given the fact that Streep, Brosnan, and Seyfried acquit themselves admirably, we have no real qualm with the content.
But Lloyd definitely tests a viewer's patience, employing fake sets, distracting green screen backdrops, and claustrophobic staging when she has an entire Greek island location to work with. There are times when she accidentally wanders into greatness, her ineptitude unable to destroy a pure moment of vocal magic. But for the most part, Mamma Mia! is flash-foiled by motion picture incompetence.
You can dance. You can jive.
Run time: 108 mins
In Theaters: Friday 18th July 2008
Box Office USA: $143.7M
Box Office Worldwide: $602.6M
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Production compaines: Internationale Filmproduktion Richter, Universal Pictures, Relativity Media, Littlestar, Playtone
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 54%
Fresh: 96 Rotten: 81
IMDB: 6.4 / 10
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Producer: Judy Craymer, Gary Goetzman
Screenwriter: Catherine Johnson
Starring: Meryl Streep as Donna, Pierce Brosnan as Sam Carmichael, Amanda Seyfried as Sophie, Colin Firth as Harry Bright, Stellan Skarsgård as Bill, Julie Walters as Rosie, Christine Baranski as Tanya, Nancy Baldwin as Sam's PA, Enzo Squillino, Jr. as Gregoris, Rachel McDowall as Lisa, Dominic Cooper as Sky, Helen Soraya as Hen