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The Mamma Mia! Phenomenon – just a theory

Submitted by on October 7, 2008 – 9:08 pm2 Comments

On the 10th July this year, we were treated to a film based on the Abba musical named . Thirteen weeks later and it is still showing in cinemas across the UK (and indeed across the world). In fact in many cinemas it is shown in two formats: the and sing-a-long.

With the very hyped superhero heavy summer we have all just gone through, it is important to question why a musical; primarily with a cast that can’t sing too well; can actually entertain us better than the whole of 2007 put together.

Here are several of my own theories as to why Mamma Mia has gripped the nation. They are here for your scrutiny and debate.

Brosnan’s bad singing

When I first heard singing S.O.S I was hiding behind my hand. How on earth could the director think he was a good choice for a musical? It was as painful as someone scratching a with their nails. He seemed to be straining an awful lot to get any notes in the range. In fact this straining (evident by his ) was akin to a to twins…..sideways.

On second viewing though, the joke became clear. The scene was painfully funny after you realised that his bad singing was part of the . No-one in their right mind must’ve thought that Brosnan could sing (even himself for that matter). It is a that he took the job as a “” more than a role (assisted by a bit of cash).

No-one’s taking themselves seriously

Attached to the above suggestion is that of each and every character on screen seems to be having a good time. This is confirmed by the poster and although you may argue that each actor / actress should at least be able to feign that, it comes across much more convincingly with Mamma Mia! It is hard to believe that anyone had a difficult time making this film. The of the poster (see above) emphasises the tone of the film perfectly. In essence: what you see is what you get. It’s a very silly farce with a lot of singing and dancing

A primarily positive film

Almost all characters on screen are in a state of “holiday mode”. The only one of these to feel a little bit of negative emotion is that of Amanda Seyfried (Sophie), and none of us care that she and her pretty boy fiancé are having doubts about their upcoming marriage.

An excuse to sing along in the cinema

Do people need an excuse to sing along in the cinema? Well yes. If you reside in Britain (a place mostly filled with uptight people and citizens obsessed with the firmness of their upper lip). Mamma Mia gave us that chance by releasing the sing-a-long version. Okay so the sing-a-long version was merely subtitled (with no warm up) but when you go to see this film with the boundaries of “don’t sing” pulled down, an innumerate amount of interesting things happen.

1. The uncomfortable silences are dropped when you are waiting for the film to start

2. You don’t feel out of place when you laugh uncontrollably at Pierce Brosnan’s singing (which happens regularly)

3. There’s a happy atmosphere in the audience (much akin to watching it at home with a bunch of like-minded friends)

4. Each and every one of you will feel like an idiot when Super Trooper is cut short to make way for dialogue

5. You can tell who bought the soundtrack as they know the words to all of the non-Abba songs in the film

6. You truly feel as if you are contributing to the film. Every time you watch it (and sing along) you’ll experience something different. They’ll be better (or worse singers), they’ll be people who needed Dutch courage to sing; they’ll be the reluctant males in the audience mumbling away (hoping no-one can hear them).

The fact that every time you see Mamma Mia actually gives you a different experience increases saleability ten-fold. I for one have seen it 4 times and each of those has rewarded me with quite different experiences. The initial viewing was mostly in silence, the second (a sing-a-long) was nerve-racking but ultimately fun, the third time I was laughing myself silly at Brosnan and Firth’s bad attempt at singing with a bunch of strangers and on the fourth time I dragged along a few drunk friends and it turned out to be one of the best (and cheapest) nights out we’ve ever had.

Julie Walters

Comic relief is plentiful in Mamma Mia from each of the characters. One of these characters stands head and shoulders above the rest and that is Julie Walters. Every single time she is on-screen she makes the scene her own. Her step away from the rest of the glamorous cast actually helps the audience (especially in the U.K.) to relate to them all (albeit only slightly).

The Music of ABBA / Soundtrack

This is a bit of an obvious one. Abba has been around a long time. I grew up on the music and have most of their CD’s. Strangely though I very rarely choose to listen to it. Perhaps it is because I am embarrassed to admit that I like a band that started out 36 years ago (and ended 25 years ago). Mamma Mia breathed new life into this music and I’ll admit that I was one of those people that went out to buy the official soundtrack of the film. Yes, I already owned most of the songs but somehow Brosnan’s screeching was missing from my 1975 version.

People go to see the film knowing the music. Perhaps then you could argue that you know what you’re getting. It is like going into the cinema whilst already knowing the script. You’d think then that it would be a more difficult sell. Maybe people just need an excuse to sing along to a bunch of ABBA songs with a load of strangers.

The lack of hogging the limelight

When you watch a film with an ensemble cast, you often feel that most of the time you are watching a power struggle between the names on-screen. Every single actor and actress in Mamma Mia is happy to stand by and let their colleagues share the limelight. It is a rare occurrence to find a group of actors so willing to share the spotlight.

A movie for all ages

This is a tough cookie. How do you make a film entertaining enough for teens, saucy enough for adults and not too offensive for the older of us? With great difficulty it seems. Mamma Mia has managed to find the right mix with the storyline, to not overly offend anyone over a certain age (the use of “…” in full effect) and not bore the younger generations.

The only demographic that you may argue it ignores, is that of males. This is where my final point comes into play:

Amanda SeyFried’s breasts

Why is it that whenever Amanda Seyfried gets on screen, the camera pans down gently to watch her natural bra-less bounce? Was this entirely necessary? Surely the fact that Mamma Mia was directed by a woman this point would not be overlooked. You could argue then that due to the fact that the very bouncy Seyfried runs, jumps and leaps around like there’s no tomorrow is a completely conscious effort by the crew. Is this to draw the male crowd? There is no denying that Seyfried is possibly the only eye-candy on screen (somehow Brosnan doesn’t do it for me).

Personally though, I feel that Seyfried (and her buoyancy) is more of an annoyance than advantage. You just have to laugh at the blatancy of the camera’s affections.


There you have it. A completely inconclusive list of why I believe Mamma Mia continues to do well (especially for repeat viewings). If you have gotten to the end of this list and can suggest any further reasons (don’t bother saying “because it’s a good movie”), then comment at will.

For me, any film that alters each time you go to see it, is well worth watching as many times as you can. I realise that the DVD will be released very soon (24th November) and there are those of you holding out to watch it for the first time then. However I would urge you not to. Get your butt down your nearest cinema and watch Mamma Mia on the big screen, then go back to watch the sing-a-long version. It is without doubt the cheapest and most fun night out for the females and (yes I’ll admit) for the men tool.

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