When I saw the stage version of Mamma Mia! a few months ago, I completely hated it. The show was the epitome of the cheesy, cornball, lets-stop-everything-and-sing type of thing I hate. The only semi-redeeming factor was the ABBA music, but, let's face it, wouldn't it have been more productive if you saved your money and listened to ABBA Gold a few more times at home? When I came home after the show and thought about it, I figured that the upcoming film version of Mamma Mia! could improve on the show--and even if it didn't, Meryl Streep was in the cast. There's no way she's ever done anything not worthwhile, right? Unfortunately for Mamma Mia! (Phyllida Lloyd, 2008), instead of a film-appropriate script, confident direction and actors who understand the material well enough to make us forget the implausibility of people breaking out into song dance, all we get is Pierce Brosnan shouting through "S.O.S."
The script is a little more polished from the lackluster stage version, but the integration of the songs into the plot is middling, at best. As a way to sneak in at least two more ABBA songs, they have Streep, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters perform as Donna and the Dynamos, a girl group the trio had in the 70's which has no bearing on the story whatsoever. Not that there's much story to speak of. Mamma Mia! is basically composed of ABBA musical videos strung together by the vaguest of plots that the writers ignore three-quarters of the time. How is it logical that in one scene Dominic Cooper's character isn't sure he wants to marry Amanda Seyfried anymore when she admits she's trying to find her father and the next time we see him, it's the wedding and all is apparently forgiven without a scene explaining his change of heart?
One of the most frustrating things about Mamma Mia! is the choreography (or lack thereof). I think I understand what Lloyd was trying to accomplish in making the dancing look as realistic and non-flashy as possible, but it's completely inappropriate for the film and downright laughable at certain times. When I saw the credits, I couldn't believe someone actually wanted credit for the embarrassing mess that was occurring up on the big screen. It's pretty sad when your big showstopper, dancing wise, is the "Dancing Queen" number which consists of Meryl Streep and a chorus of 50+ women doing dance moves that would be considered second-rate in a high school production. The majority of the choreography consists of the actors strutting, jumping and doing something as obvious as holding up a finger while singing "feeling like a number one" during "Super Trouper." Fucking brilliant. Want to know when I came up with that dance move? When I was 11 and dancing to "...Baby One More Time" by myself in my room.
Meryl Streep, whom I rightly consider the greatest actress of our time, gives the worst performance I've ever seen from her. I never knew she could sink this low into the realm of the shitty. In The Devil Wears Prada, Streep took a cartoonish character and made her human-- she was a major bitch, but still seemed like a boss from hell we've all had. Here, she overacts in nearly every scene and, especially during the scene on the dock when she greets Baranski and Walters, I wanted to shout out in the middle of the theater, "Reel it in, Meryl!" The people who think Streep should be nominated for a Golden Globe (and even win in some cases!) for this travesty-- for showing her "light" and "fun" side-- make me question that we were watching the same film. Giving her a nomination for this film would be the equivalent of giving one to Joan Crawford for one of her low budget freak show movies she made towards the end of her career like Beserk! or Trog.
The rest of the cast, barring the lovely Amanda Seyfried who somehow remains unscathed, isn't much better than Streep. Pierce Brosnan, especially, takes a massive beating. At least Meryl can sing and does wonders with "Mamma Mia" and parts of "The Winner Takes it All"; Brosnan shouts through "S.O.S." and warbles through "When All Is Said and Done" in the same two-note (if he's lucky) range. Stellan Skarsgard just looks uncomfortable and out of place. Walters cackles like the Wicked Witch of the West throughout most of the film. Britney Spears' infamous pink wig looked more natural than the atrocious brown pile of fur on Baranski's head (hairpiece aside, Baranski is probably the most fun of the adults and her savage take on "Does Your Mother Know" is one of the best parts of the film). I like Colin Firth as much as the next guy, but seeing him have his clothes torn off by horny 20 year old girls during "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight" and then watching him proclaim his love for one of the 20 year old Greek bachelors as subtly as Jack McFarland is a tad off-putting. Dominic Cooper, I must admit, is easy on the eyes, but everything about the role (from the amount of time he spends shirtless to his gooey dialogue) reeks of the shameless.
Phyllida Lloyd's direction lacks any imagination whatsoever. Most of the stagings are straight from the play and the few that do differ aren't anything groundbreaking. It probably would have been slightly more interesting to shoot everything in a long shot (like we're watching a stage show) than Lloyd's slavishly dull combination of long shot/close up/slight pan repeated over and over again. I was afraid this was going to happen after the Susan Stroman debacle with The Producers and, unfortunately, I was proven wrong. Lloyd assumes that, like the stage show did, the music of ABBA will make you forget the mess that's going on around those wonderful tunes. And, for most, they did. To me, however, there's no way that even music as great as ABBA's will make up for something as lazy and trashy as this film. D