Review: “Mamma Mia” and the jukebox musical [MUSE]


Chenyao Liu

With the stress of college applications hitting, I wanted to review one of my all-time favorite musicals: “Mamma Mia!” Set on the fictional Greek island of Kalokairi, the pristine sea and perfect sky make this film feel like summer. 

The plot follows Sophie Sheridan, a young bride-to-be. She lives with her mother, Donna, who owns a run-down resort and never married. As such, Sophie doesn’t know the identity of her father. After discovering her mother’s old diary which recounts a wild summer in 1979, Sophie invites her three possible dads to her upcoming wedding, hoping she will recognize her father upon arrival. 

“Mamma Mia!” is a feel-good romantic comedy and a great example of a jukebox musical: a musical that features well-known popular songs, rather than original music. The soundtrack consists almost exclusively of ABBA’s chart-topping hits from the ‘70s and ‘80s, with songs like “Waterloo” and “Dancing Queen.” 

There’s a lot of critique against jukebox musicals. Many say having recognizable music means the audience doesn’t have to worry about understanding every word to keep up with the plot. In “Mamma Mia!,” however, the plot is sometimes twisted to be able to include specific ABBA songs like “Does Your Mother Know.” The scene the song features in is unimportant to the central plot, but a fun and raunchy interlude. In fact, even the central plot is so wrapped around the ABBA soundtrack that it sometimes feels as if the characters’ only exist in song, with all the major development happening through ABBA and little emotion when they’re not singing. 

With the ABBA soundtrack being so crucial to the film, some of the cast may disappoint. Pierce Brosnan, who plays Sam, one of Donna’s former lovers, and Stellan Skarsgård, who plays Bill, another one of Donna’s former lovers, are less than exceptional. Their singing feels stilted and even awkward. However, Meryl Streep, who plays Donna, and Amanda Seyfried, who plays Sophie, carry the film with their voices and acting. 

Underneath the amazing soundtrack (can you tell I’m a fan of ABBA?), “Mamma Mia!” offers an interesting contradiction to the idea of a nuclear family. With Donna walking Sophie down the aisle and all three potential fathers agreeing to take a “third” of the parentship, the film emphasizes that family is about love, not a biological relation. 

Ultimately, if you want to watch a fun, campy, and incredibly entertaining movie that doesn’t require too much thought, “Mamma Mia!” is for you. Make sure to watch through the end credits for a fun surprise. Thanks for reading MUSE!