“Very few songs in this movie actually fit the narrative, and the ones that did were performed so horribly that it made no difference.”
Before I start this review I have a few things to get out of the way:
First of all, I like musicals. No, scratch that, I love musicals. It is, in my opinion, one of the greatest mediums for expression. They require so much skill to not only write but also perform, and when one comes together correctly there is nothing in the world that can top it.
Second of all, I love ABBA. Like almost anyone else in the world, I find their music phenomenal. Sure it is a little ‘disco’ for me at times, but I can’t deny the impact they had on not only the music scene but also pop culture. And to be honest it is catchy as hell.
And last but certainly not least, and this one is probably the most important, I haven’t published a review for a few days so it is possible that this review is going to house a lot of pent up aggression and anger that I haven’t been able to otherwise release.
With all of that out of the way, let’s get on to the main attraction:
Mamma Mia! is a fucking terrible movie.
For some background, let’s go back a few months. I was sitting in a movie theatre waiting patiently to see god knows what, when the trailer for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again came on. My mom eagerly leaned over to me as soon as the trailer was done and enthusiastically said “We have to go see that”. Now I wasn’t unfamiliar with the Mamma Mia! franchise at the time, but it was a movie that had escaped me for many years. When it was first released I was not a fan of musicals, and by the time I was a fan of them nothing compelled me to go back and watch it.
Fast-forward a few months and Mamma Mia! is taking the world by storm. Not only am I seeing people on the internet praise not only the sequel but also the first film, but my friends are discussing how important it is that they see this movie. I was a little confused, but I decided to give in. So last night I sat down, and committed to watching what might be one of the worst things I have ever seen in my life.
Mamma Mia! is in no way a good movie. And I know that I am far from the target audience of the film, but even objectively I can say that it had very little going for it. Now there are a few points to my tear-down of this beloved film, so I think I’ll start with least to most critical to the film. That means that first up are the performances.
Now technically the performances are broken down into two categories: acting and vocal performances, so I’ll start with the acting. Mamma Mia! features some of the worst performances that I have ever seen in a movie. Now this is kind of a tricky subject becasue I feel like the performances fit with the ‘kitschy’ aesthetic of the movie, so I can’t exactly point to certain examples and say “that was bad” when the rest of the movie isn’t any better. Or can I? You see, in the midst of this fucking terrible movie is a star. This person is consistently nominated for Academy awards that reward her performances. She is hailed as one of the greats in Hollywood, and in this movie she gave one of the worst performances I have ever seen. Meryl Streep is what is wrong with this movie. Well that’s not really fair, but she is at least what is wrong with the performances in this movie.
Meryl Streep seems to have forgotten she was starring in a movie, becasue she acted as though it was a stage. Now this could be seen as a positive to some, Mamma Mia! originally being a stage production, but there is one problem with performances on stage: you constantly have to perform for the cheap seats. For Meryl Streep, those were the only seats that mattered during the filming of Mamma Mia!. The constant over acting and annoying grandiose line delivery got to me after about two scenes. It was infuriating to see Meryl Streep, an esteemed actress who I absolutely adore, relegate herself with this god awful performance.
But it doesn’t stop there becasue we have yet to talk about the vocal performances. Now there is one thing that stands in the way of me enjoying Mamma Mia!, and those are the vocal performances. They are measurably worse than those released by ABBA, so in my opinion I have no reason to watch this movie when I could just put on any one of ABBA’s albums and have a better experience. But I’m not going to let them get away with just that, because these performances were bad. I mean really bad. Once again in the spotlight you have Meryl Streep, who sounds nothing like Meryl Streep. I will never in a million years believe that was Meryl Streep’s actual vocal performance becasue it sounded nothing like her. There were parts where it was obviously Meryl Streep singing. A song would start off and her husky voice would fill your ears and you would go “Yeah, that makes sense”. But then a chorus would come on and that husky, aged voice would be transformed into that of a songbird. Nothing truly remarkable but leagues better than what we were just hearing. And to this I say there is no fucking way that it is still her. You can say anything you want to me, but I will never believe that Meryl Streep sang every single Meryl Streep line in this movie.
And then you have fucking Pierce Brosnan who spent the entire movie screaming all of his lines. Honestly, the dude sounded pissed that he was asked to sing but it was in his contract, so he tried his best to let the audience know that he was most definitely doing this against his will. And as for everyone else in the movie, they were average at best. Streep and Brosnan were the only two that stood out as terrible to me, but there were none that stood out as amazing.
Actually, that’s not true. Before I move on from the performance aspect of this review (that’s right, this is still only the first part) I want to praise Mamma Mia! for one thing it did right: cast Amanda Seyfried. Amanda Seyfried is no stranger to musicals, lending her amazing voice to one of my all time favourites Les Misérables, but her skill is made so much more apparent by the mediocrity of everyone else. And not only were her vocal performances fucking amazing, but she easily gave the best acting performance as well (and that’s saying something when Amanda Seyfried is acting circles around Meryl Streep). Honestly Amanda Seyfried is the one part of Mamma Mia! that is stopping me from hating it. Despite me disliking almost everything that this movie delivered, Amanda Seyfried was so good it almost made the rest worth it. It didn’t, but it almost did.
I want to continue this journey of hate by next talking about the story in Mamma Mia!. Mamma Mia! features what I can only describe as a bland and privileged story. The film follows Sophie, a twenty year-old who is about to get married, who sends invitations to three men that her mother had sex with in an attempt to find out which one is her real dad. Touching, right? Unfortunately this is a very small part of the story, and is honestly only the call to action. The movie uses this to get all three men to this little island in Greece, and then the shenanigans ensue. I honestly felt betrayed by the lack of story in this fucking movie becasue the set up is honestly pretty solid. It’s a heavy story about finding yourself and also facing demons from the past, but instead it was made so cutesy it gave me a stomach ache. Seriously, everything about this movie is made as though the filmmakers were afraid to offend anyone. Not in like a political way, but in like a “Oh, there is a single dark cloud in the sky. That makes me sad” kind of way. It was like an episode of Black Mirror where the world is programmed to make you as fucking happy as possible. Everything is well-lit and painted bright, obnoxious colours. People are always singing and shit. It’s disgusting.
But this also had some downfalls that weren’t apparent on the surface. Like for instance, the FUCKING GHOST PEOPLE THAT JUST LIVE IN THE HOTEL! What was up with that? Sometimes they were acknowledged, sometimes they weren’t. Were they foreign? Were they english? Were they the souls of the deceased patrons of this hotel? Did they live there? Did they work there? There are so many questions that this portion of the movie raised, and then it proceeded to answer none of them. But that’s kind of in-line with the disappointing conclusions the movie made anyway, like why Sam? Why was he the one that was picked at the end? There were three of them. They were identical. Why Sam? Just explain that to me. Why Sam? Was it becasue he asked? Was it because he was the one you actually loved all along? Becasue going by your diary you kind of loved them all. So why Sam? Why Meryl? Why Sam? Just tell me. TELL ME, MERYL. WHY. SAM?
I said I was going to structure this review by criticizing things that are most crucial to the plot last, and working backwards from there. So that brings us to what I can only hope is obvious to you: the music. Mamma Mia! is a musical, so I would argue that the music is the most important part of the movie. I already discussed that I love ABBA, and I also mentioned that the vocal performances were fucking terrible, but there is one thing that bothers me a lot about Mamma Mia!: The music didn’t fit. Now this point kind of goes hand-in-hand with my last point about the story, but usually musicals are written simultaneously; music and story. This means that when a scene transitions into a song there is purpose. The song is furthering the plot, and it works. Now sometimes stories can be adapted into musicals, and the idea there is the same. The issue is when a collection of songs is adapted into a musical. Why is that a problem? Because the songs don’t have a common story.
Now of course there are exceptions to this rule, but ABBA is not one of them. All of their songs are different. This means that the story in Mamma Mia! either feels really disjointed, or it has to bend almost to the point of breaking to fit the narrative in any given song. Mamma Mia! opts to take the first path most of the time. What that means is that Mamma Mia! is a movie that is comprised of people just bursting out into song. Now you can say that about all musicals, but here is my argument: in other musicals the songs make sense. Mamma Mia! is literally a collection of grownups who think it best to start singing random songs in full, at completely arbitrary times throughout their day. These songs sometimes fit the narrative, but usually the narrative has been crafted to fit the song. And it shows.
“How are we gonna squeeze another song in here?”
“I dunno, how about like an attempted gang rape?”
“Really? In a movie about ABBA?”
“Yeah, and then after that we can have a bunch of dudes in masks swing down from the rooftops and act like pirates pillaging a town”
“Do you want more rape in that one”
“Nah, we’ll just imply the pillaging. The audience will make the rape connection themselves.”
Very few songs in this movie actually fit the narrative, and the ones that did were performed so horribly that it made no difference.
That felt good. Very cathartic for me. I don’t like tearing movies apart, but sometimes a movie will cross my path and I can’t help myself. Mamma Mia! is one of those movies. I don’t know if it was the perceived ‘cashing in’ on ABBA that did it for me, or the influx of people praising the movie and looking forward to the sequel. Or maybe it was my love of musicals in general. Whatever it was, it made me mad when I watched Mamma Mia!. Like actually mad. The only reason I’m giving this movie any rating at all is becasue of Amanda Seyfried. She was the diamond in the rough. And believe me when I say that everything else was really rough.
I give Mamma Mia! an F