Its not a “good” film, but that’s not what makes Mama Mia! so interesting and even, inspirational.
The film is based of the West End musical, where the songs are crammed in order to get something resembling a narrative plot. Meryl Streep stars as a former party girl who owns a run-down B&B on a Greek Island. Her daughter, played by Amanda Seyfreid is soon to be married and has never met her father but wants him to be there for her big day. Finding an old diary she’s invited three potential dads to her wedding, hoping she’ll know who her father is when she sees him. Enter the Dads, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard. Of course, about 10 ABBA songs that loosely relate to what’s going on are played during the above events of the film.
Mama Mia! was never supposed to be as massive a success as it turned out to be, if anything, the film is an example of how cleverly marketing a film can work to your advantage. Screenings of the film and DVD sales were sold as the perfect “Mother’s Day gift” or the ideal “girls night” experience. The film ended up being the 5th highest grossing film world-wide in 2008 all due to it pitching itself firmly toward an under-represented and overlooked, older female audience. The film boosted revenues in 2008 for UK cinemas world-wide, even saving one cinema in Wales from closing.
Why was the film popular? Clever marketing and an army of ABBA fans aside, I would also argue that Mama Mia! Was a product of its time. One year on from the global recession of 2007-2009 (according to Wikipedia anyway), Mama Mia! gave people an escape. An escape to a sunny island where everyone sings ABBA and sure it doesn’t matter if you never actually figure out who your dad is because your Mam is Meryl Streep.
Despite the popularity with audiences, a clear critical split emerged in reaction to Mama Mia! (yes, I have STUDIED!). As is often the case, this split often went along gender lines. Critics like The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw labelled the film “Super-Pooper” with The Times review by James Christopher, referring to the ‘Dancing Queen’ number where – god forbid older women…DANCE… and SING – as a “truly terrifying spectacle”. Critiquing this scene – which is arguably the most uplifting and beautifully stupid part of the film – in this way has more than a hint of misogyny about it. Where as many female critics “got it”; its supposed to be cheesy and god awful. Writing for the The Times, Melanie Reid sums up the film’s appeal “what fun it would be, if I was a part of it”.
The signing is bad. I’m not going to defend it. But I think this is why I found the film so endearing. Meryl Streep, Oscar winner and icon, can’t really sing, but in a way it makes me relate to her more as I’m sure I’m out of tune when I belt out ‘SOS’. The fact that everyone in the cast is having an amazing time is palpable, I have a sneaking suspicion a lot of the cast were plastered shooting the scenes, but in a way that’s when most people end up singing ABBA anyway.
So ten years on what can we say about Mama Mia!? Not all films are supposed to be Citizen Kane, but they can still make a connection with people; be it through having a usually ignored population on screen (older women) or having a sound track that you cant help but sing along to. Sometimes just getting up and facing the day ahead is made so much easier with ‘Waterloo’ blaring in your headphones. If poor aul’ Pierce Brosnan can get through singing ‘SOS’ then you can get through anything.