Running for years now, the ABBA jukebox Broadway hit Mamma Mia! supposedly has audiences dancing in the aisles to the incessantly catchy tunes of the somewhat creepy Swedish pop group. I assume that the show has the tacky pleasures of a night out at a karaoke bar, but this film version of Mamma Mia! is such a full-scale disaster in every way that it’s hard to know what has held theatergoers’ attention for so long. Director Phyllida Lloyd sets new lows in cinematic ineptitude by mixing and matching different takes at will and using frantic cutting and a lot of zooms to try to create some kind of arbitrary energy; there are lots of “big” production numbers where the lead actors and many extras seem to be going through some sort of hellishly disorganized calisthenics routine on boardwalks and beachfronts. Aside from the amateurish young lead, Amanda Seyfried, everybody in the cast looks game, but no one has the vaguest notion of what they’re doing or why they’re doing it, mainly because the ABBA songs have been so carelessly shoehorned into the flimsy narrative. A golden-tressed Meryl Streep is self-consciously loosey-goosey as Seyfried’s mother, and so aimlessly grand and unfocussed that in her big power ballad, “The Winner Takes It All,” she suggests a weird mixture of a hyperactive toddler crossed with Irene Papas playing Clytemnestra. There are still pleasures to be had from musical films, and even films of Broadway shows like Mamma Mia!, but none of them can ever be anything but painful to sit through if they continue to be helmed by theater directors who have no idea how to stage a musical number for the camera.
- Phyllida Lloyd
- Catherine Johnson
- Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Christine Baranski, Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Stellan Skarsgård
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