There's light and fizzy, and then there's the Broadway musical Mamma Mia!, a confection with enough sugar to dissolve teeth like an Alka-Seltzer tablet. Constructing a play—and now a clumsily staged film—around ABBA songs is the definition of a frivolous enterprise, and little has been done to temper the ecstatic mood with other shadings of human emotion. On the contrary, Mamma Mia! is a relentless happy-making machine calibrated to beat viewers into submission, and there are times when seems silly to try to fight it. After all, the setting is an idyllic Greek island, there are wedding bells in the air, and there's plenty of wacky upstairs/downstairs comedy, plus the distinct probability of platform boots, boas, and an isle-wide sing-along to "Dancing Queen." Everyone on the screen is really, really, really excited, so why shouldn't you be, too?
Always a pleasure in lighter roles, Meryl Streep brings her usual effervescence (and a middling voice) to the role of a single mother and inn proprietor preparing to marry off her daughter (Amanda Seyfried). Without her mother's knowledge, Seyfried invites three men to the wedding who could potentially be her father: American architect Pierce Brosnan, British banker Colin Firth, and Swedish world traveler Stellan Skarsgård. Seyfried didn't count on any of the three replying, much less showing up, so she's in a quandary when they come to the island together and throw her mother into a tizzy. For support, Streep turns to longtime friends Julie Walters and Christine Baranski, who also served as bandmates in the erstwhile disco outfit Donna And The Dynamos.
Much as with the leaden big-screen adaptation of The Producers, the team behind the stage musical—writer Catherine Johnson, producer Judy Craymer, and director Phyllida Lloyd—are also responsible for the film version, and Mamma Mia! hasn't been imagined for the screen so much as shoehorned onto it. The incongruous mix of real locations and stage sets, real voices and overdubs, is a constant distraction, while the choreography lumbers in group numbers and goes flat in more intimate ones. The only showstopper is Meryl Streep's heartfelt rendition of "The Winner Takes It All," and not coincidentally, it's also the one time the film introduces a note of gravity to the proceedings. The rest of the time, Mamma Mia! force-feeds bliss.