Gut Reaction: Mamma Mia! (2008)

July 26, 2008

It’s starting to seem like last year’s wonderful comedy “Juno” was from some other movie universe, where people react like real people and talk in more interesting ways. Here in this universe, we have to put up with movies like “Mamma Mia!”, where the people sing real pretty most of the time but talk and act like they’ve had pieces of their brains removed.

Remember that scene towards the end of “Juno,” where Juno decides that since Vanessa wants a child, and is more financially stable, and is smart and sweet, that it doesn’t matter who the “real” parent is, only who will love the kid? That scene has more intelligence in it than the entirety of “Mamma Mia!”. There were moments here where I wanted to yell at the screen to keep the characters from having another stupid misunderstanding that would be cleared up if they only stopped acting like idiots.

A perfect example; on her wedding day, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is distressed because her mother is worried about the three men she’s invited to the wedding to prove that she… screw that, no. The point is, Sophie says to her mother, Donna (Meryl Streep), “You don’t want me to get married at all, do you?” and starts crying and carrying on. Then they have a fight. There’s not a shred of a reason for them to fight except for them to cry and make up later.

The movie centers around Sophie’s wedding day. She’s found her mom’s old diary, where it shows that one of three men could be her father. So she invites all three men to the wedding. They’re played by Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard, all of them former lovers of Donna, her mother. When they get there, the movie is a very long series of events where one person is trying to keep a secret from another person. Sophie hides the men in the goat house, where of course Donna will never look. It’s agonizing to watch these people rushing around trying to avoid each other in the finger-quotes wackiest way possible, just to avoid a three-minute conversation that might be sort of awkward. If the relationships with any of the men had been given any weight at all, there might have been some justification for what passes as humor here.

“Mamma Mia!’ isn’t a complete waste. There are two legitimately good performances here- Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan have natural and charming screen presences that show through even with the awful dialogue they have to recite, but then again, they’re only two characters in the movie with anything to do. Brosnan, God bless him, can’t sing to save his life. I also like most of the music, and the choreography suits the energy level. But many of the songs feel too repetitive and too short. “Dancing Queen” is, what, one chorus and one verse?

But for every song that does work, there’s a scene of boring, obvious, agonizing dialogue or plot contrivance. There’s also a performance by Christine Baranski that is like fingernails on the blackboard for me.

But y’know what’s really the problem here? No on took the time to write a script with characters and dialogue and a meaningful series of events building to a climax. No one took the time to make a movie. They threw a bunch of fundamentally unconnected songs together and hoped a miracle would happen. It makes me think of last year’s “Across the Universe,” which also used pop songs, but had a story based around characters and ideas rather than contrivance.

If “Mamma Mia!” succeeds, and here’s hoping it doesn’t, it will be on the backs of the talents of ABBA and the fans of the stage show. The legacy of the band could probably float more than one movie, and maybe it deserves to. But it’s certainly worth more of a plot than this garbage.



  1. I just wanted to tell you, I love the blog!

  2. But did Brosnan live up to his role in Robinson Carusoe? That is the real question.

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