Mamma mia is right

Sending out an S.O.S. to cast’s singing abilities

Rated 2.0

‘Oh, brother … it’s ABBA night at the karaoke bar. Based on a stage musical that loosely links the band’s back catalog into a wafer-thin narrative, Mamma Mia! is the last call at the aforementioned bar expanded into 90 minutes. Now, nothing against ABBA; the songs are perfect pop confections carried by sweet harmonies. But remove those harmonies and it’s like Blue Öyster Cult without the cowbell. Actually, it’s more like Blue Öyster Cult covers with nothing but cowbell.

On an idyllic Greek island, a young woman on the eve of her wedding day snags her mother’s diary of wild days 20 years past and invites the three men suspected of being her father to the proceedings. And, well … that’s pretty much it. Imagine the possibilities. And then throw in plenty of awkward camp, threadbare aphorisms and clunky staging of the big numbers, by the numbers.

In between the women shrieking and cackling at each other, the menfolk standing around looking confused and the wink-wink Greek chorus popping up sporadically to provide colorful background, the promised ABBA covers are trotted out and butchered in slapsticky ritual. The takes on the material are generally pretty painful, as an overall-clad Meryl Streep growls her way through “Mamma Mia” and Pierce Brosnan struggles valiantly with “SOS” like the Old Man trying to land the marlin. Almost every song sends a shudder up the spine with the first sour notes, and an ensuing shudder back down as the songs continue.

If anyone makes the proceedings tolerable, it’s Amanda Seyfried as the big-eyed daughter, who handles the material (both singing and acting) fairly capably.

To be fair, on stage the musical is probably a lot of fun. But the conceit doesn’t carry well to the screen, as what is perfectly adequate on a stage doesn’t translate well set against the realistic backdrop of Greece. Ultimately, Mamma Mia! plays like spending an hour-and-a-half watching a group of middle-aged folk singing into hairbrushes as they dance through a hall of mirrors.