Not everyone can make a movie. The motion picture art form, while not incredibly complicated, contains enough nuances and pitfalls to circumvent even the most seasoned show business veteran. Perfect proof of celluloid's selective process arrives in the form of Mamma Mia!, the big screen adaptation of the hit jukebox musical. While it ends up being a whimsical and quite wonderful experience on a superficial level, the vision behind the lens is radioactive in its undeniable cluelessness.
Sophie (Amanda Seyfried
) lives on a remote Greek island with her ex-rock star mother Donna (Meryl Streep
). She is about to marry the British bo-hunk Sky (Dominic Hooper), and she really wants her dad to give her away. Unfortunately, Sophie doesn't know who her father is. Finding her mother's diary, she invites the three men Donna was involved with at the time. Bill (Stellan Skarsgård
) writes travel guides, while Sam (Pierce Brosnan
) and Harry (Colin Firth
) are a big time businessman and banker, respectively. Naturally, Donna is dumbfounded to see her exes. Even worse, when she discovers Sophie's motives, it will take her best friends/former back-up singers Rosie (Julie Walters
) and Tanya (Christine Baranski
) to save the day... and the wedding. Article continues below
Mamma Mia! is the worst-directed "good" movie ever. If it wasn't for the effervescent charms of ABBA's sparkling songs, and the brave earnestness of the uniformly superb cast, it would be an unbridled disaster. No matter her impressive theatrical résumé, director Phyllida Lloyd
is the song and dance version of Uwe Boll
. Her choices behind the lens are so shockingly bad, and her grasp of cinematic language so surprisingly weak, that you wonder how amazing this movie would have been had someone with a modicum of moviemaking skill shown up to take control.
A prime example of Lloyd's motion picture incompetence comes toward the very end, when Streep is singing her heart out to "The Winner Takes It All." It's an emotional moment, the pinnacle ballad in a character's crazed, out-of-control life. As the Oscar winner delivers a knock-out performance, her delicate gestures giving way to facial expressions racked with regret, Lloyd circles the actress, her camera constantly swirling around the action. By the fourth or fifth revolution, we want the visual merry-go-round to stop, if only to give Streep a chance to connect. But instead, the audience must endure more whirling dervish nonsense before a final shot saves everything.
Much of Mamma Mia! is like this, random moments of acting/musical brilliance boondoggled by Lloyd's aggravating designs. A pier-side chorus line of "liberated" ladies really sells "Dancing Queen," even if our filmmaker can't capture the moment properly for maximum impact. Our young lovers sing "Lay All Your Love on Me" with the appropriate passion, even as their director adds goofy men in scuba gear as a Monty Python-like distraction.
And remember, this is a good movie, a film buoyed by ABBA's undeniably infectious music. The minute one of their classic kitsch hits comes cascading across the speakers, all flaws are forgiven, carried away on puffy cotton candy clouds of pop chart charms. It's hard to maintain a sour attitude with '70s staples like "S.O.S.," "Super Trouper," or "Take a Chance on Me" bouncing in your brain. And given the fact that Streep, Brosnan, and Seyfried acquit themselves admirably, we have no real qualm with the content.
But Lloyd definitely tests a viewer's patience, employing fake sets, distracting green screen backdrops, and claustrophobic staging when she has an entire Greek island location to work with. There are times when she accidentally wanders into greatness, her ineptitude unable to destroy a pure moment of vocal magic. But for the most part, Mamma Mia! is flash-foiled by motion picture incompetence.