A “predictably glossy screen adaptation of the Abba-scored musical” that uses bigscreen names like Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan for the leads and adds lush Greek exteriors” that are made to look “glitzy” and “over-polished,” Mamma Mia! plays out more like an oversized Abba promotional vehicle than a fully dramatic piece,” writes Variety‘s Jordan Mintzer.
His point is basically that the film will make lots of money off its huge female fan base, partly or largely because of the “fun” element that was recently praised by the Hollywood Reporter‘s Ray Bennett. But the direction by Phyllida Lloyd (who directed the stage musical) and the screenplay by Catherine Johnson is not, he strongly implies, up to the level of Baz Luhrman, Lars von Trier or Milos Forman.
“The singing-and-dancing work for the basic excitement and energy of a live performance, but an additional boost of cinematic prowess is needed to sustain a similar rhythm on film,” he notes. “Johnson and theater-opera vet Lloyd” — both in their first screen outing — “can’t seem to find the right tone or style for their globally celebrated material.
“Most of the chorus dance numbers — especially ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’ and ‘Voulez-vous’ — feel over-shot and over-cut, never allowing for the pleasure of a sustained, well-choreographed performance. Other, more intimate songs — including the beach-set ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’ and the cliff-set ‘The Winner Takes It All’ — feature a twirling Steadicam that does a better job of depicting the gorgeous coastline than the lip-synching cast.
“Thesping is all-around pro, although some stars, especially the bouncy and rejuvenated Meryl Streep, seem better suited for musical comedy than others, including Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgard.
“Despite the obvious time and energy devoted to smooth transitioning between studio and location scenes (both are shot realistically yet theatrically by d.p. Haris Zambarloukos), tech work often feels more rushed than mastered. Poor dubbing in some of the outdoor sequences tends to take away from the filmmakers’ insistence that we’re actually there.”