I well remember seeing Mamma Mia! for the first time with Patrick, Erika and my lovely wife. I was the only one who liked it, I was the only one who had fun that afternoon, and I was the only one who got my money's worth. So I won.
The critical drubbing this innocent little trifle received upon its original release surprised me. Here is a random sampling of the vitriol:
"The legal definition of torture has been much aired in recent years, and I take Mamma Mia! to be a useful contribution to that debate."
--Anthony Lane, The New Yorker
"A sage once advised being wary of movies in which the people on screen are having more fun than the people in the audience. Mamma Mia!, was that good advice."
--Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
"A mostly ghastly spectacle."
--Fernando F. Croce, CinePassion
" I believe that genealogy would prove ‘director’ Phyllida Lloyd a descendant of Ed Wood himself."
--Nathanial Rogers, Film Experience
"No film has ever had a more irrelevant story."
--Peter Bradshaw, Guardian UK
“[Mamma Mia! is] a chintzy valentine to the [. . .] ebullience of one's own flimsily ’empowered’ friendships and one's most offhanded and tarted-up whims.”
--Nick Davis, Nick's Flick Picks
“Unfortunately, Streep and her ancient co-stars create pure torture whenever on screen together. [...] The Catwoman of movie musicals.”
--Mike Sage, Peterborough This Week
Why all the hate, critics? One would think that Mamma Mia! caused the 2008 banking crisis. As an antidote to all this bad juju, I offer the following 25 reasons that Mamma Mia!, on the right evening, when you are in the right mood, and with the right people, MAYBE is… not so bad. In fact, it actually may be (dare I say it?) kind of fun.
25 Reasons to Give Mamma Mia! a Second Look
1. Tom Hanks' Play-tone Studios produced Mamma Mia! Scooter-gang member Larry Crowne notwithstanding, Tom Hanks deals in high-quality merchandise.
2. Mamma Mia! is beautiful to look at — between the authentic Greek locations and the cinematography of Haris Zambarloukos, this film is easy on the eyes.
Transformers (in spite of having fewer robots.)
4. The songs in Mamma Mia! are insanely catchy — just ask any one of the 380 million people who have ever bought an ABBA record.
5. Meryl Streep can really sing. Why has she not been allowed to do more of this in the past? Even critics who hated the film admitted that her terrific rendition of "The Winner Takes It All" was a highlight of the film.
7. Stellan Skargaard, Colin Firth, and Pierce Brosnan all go full-in on this movie. They’re not only game for anything, they elevate the quality of all their scenes through sheer presence and force of will.
8. A grouch might argue that there are too many musical numbers, but that’s crazy talk because a) there is no such thing and b) like most "songbook" musicals, the filmmakers are attempting to shoehorn as many ABBA hits into 108 minutes as possible because THAT’S THE POINT. I actually think it is merely a case of two many "similar" musical numbers in a row; I would re-order them — because I know everything.
9. Amanda Seyfried is cuter than a button.
11. Many critics attacked the featherweight, insubstantial plot. First, when have we ever given a damn about the plot of a musical? Plus, I disagree. On the eve of a young woman’s surrender to marriage, three strangers from her mother's past convene on a remote island to lay claim to the girl’s paternity. Sounds like early Ingmar Bergman to me.
12. While Mamma Mia! is full of big musical numbers, it is actually the pair of smaller, quieter numbers that shine. "Our Last Summer," performed acoustically and featuring our trio of gentlemen wistfully reminiscing on a boat, and "Slipping Through My Fingers," in which Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried wax nostalgic about their shared past. Both numbers are heartwarming, featuring excellent performances from actors who have real chemistry with each other. How could anyone with a heart call that a "ghastly spectacle"?
14. People that like musicals need to go see musicals (same with Westerns). Do not bemoan the lack of musicals, and then when one is released (once in a blue moon) stay home. By seeing Mamma Mia!, you help ensure that more musicals may be released in the future.
15. Pierce Brosnan can sing. You may not like his voice — it reminds me of English folksinger Roger Whittaker — but he can sing.
16. Sometimes in class I think my students’ antipathy towards musicals is based on the fact that they have never seen a truly BAD musical, so they have nothing with which to compare sublime films like Singing In The Rain and A Hard Day's Night. You think Mamma Mia! is bad? Then you have never seen the films Song of Norway, A Chorus Line, or The Terror of Tiny Town.
17. Am I comparing Mamma Mia! to Singing in the Rain and A Hard Day's Night? Heavens, NO. Am I saying that it is fun on its own merits? YES.
18. Mamma Mia! is better than any of the Twilight movies (in spite of having fewer vampire babies.)
19. Like all good musicals, Mamma Mia! suggests that life can — should! — be an adventure and that romantic love is possible. In these dark and troubled times, this facet of the film alone makes it worth recommending.
21. In previous columns, I call both Singing in the Rain and The Blues Brothers “musicals for people who hate musicals.” Mamma Mia! might possibly be a "musical for people who love musicals." If you’re not sure which you are, this movie may serve as a litmus test.
22. This one is complicated. Because our readers here at F This Movie! are pretty movie savvy, the film can spark an interesting discussion of the role of the director in any production. I’ll be the first to say it: Mamma Mia! is poorly directed. At every turn, the songs, the performances, the choreography and the cinematography are undercut by Phyllida Lloyd's amateurish direction. This was both her first theatrical feature and first musical. Perhaps our Phyllida (that's fun to say) bit off more than she could chew; I do not think it sinks the film. Discuss.
23. Did I mention that Amanda Seyfried is as cute as a button? Oh, I did?
24. The end credits sequence where Streep, Baranski, and Walters appear in ABBA-inspired glam-rock getups to sing "Dancing Queen" is a hoot. In the "encore" they are joined by Skaarsgard, Firth, Brosnan, Seyfried and Dominic Cooper in similar dress and again, everyone absolutely commits to the goofiness.
F-Heads, I was going to suggest you “take a ch-chance” on Mamma Mia!, but I’m better than that. Still, you totally should. In the meantime, if you have any recommendations for musicals that you feel deserve a little more love, let us know in the comments below, Fernando!