Frank Capra once said, “There are no rules in filmmaking—only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.” By that logic, Phyllida Lloyd’s Mamma Mia! is one of the most virtuous films ever made.
Every frame of Mamma Mia! bursts with stimuli: sparkling Grecian shorelines, teal feather boas, synchronized movement, and three-part harmonies all compete for your attention, all within the same shot. The result is a euphoric viewing experience.
As a seasoned theatre director, Lloyd infuses Mamma Mia! with dynamic energy, expertly balancing spectacle and authenticity. Under her direction, the cast, most of them esteemed veteran actors, toss all vanity to the Mediterranean breeze. Lloyd crafts a mood of fun and familiarity so potent that it’s contagious—whether you’re an ABBA fan or not.
The island of Kalokairi is a sensual paradise, a kind that’s become rare in the grittier cinematic landscape of the last two decades. The colors, for example, are richer there—the turquoise of the Aegean sea, the orange of the sunset, the gold of flickering candles. Sunlight coats everything like a syrup. As for the inhabitants, they are perpetually bubbly and effortlessly beautiful; they spontaneously break into song and dance like it’s instinct.
Kalokairi is something of a feminist utopia, too. Apart from its central paternity crisis, the plot of Mamma Mia! revolves entirely around relationships between women: mothers, daughters, and friends. Across the island are women loving each other unconditionally—in song and otherwise.
The power of women is embedded into every fiber of the story. Donna (Meryl Streep) has been running her hotel on her own for decades; she candidly laments the difficulties of being a single, working woman in a “rich man’s world.” Tanya (Christine Baranski) fends off libidinous advances from a much younger man, preaching the value of older women’s sexual experience. Donna and the Dynamos share a lived-in friendship that’s a testament to the longevity of women’s bonds. Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) ditches marriage for traveling the world, inheriting her mother’s own free and independent spirit.
Mamma Mia! accomplishes a difficult cinematic feat: it’s sweet but not saccharine, campy but not overripe, and it manages to be nostalgic and timeless at once. It’s a film as effervescent as they come.
Sophia Stewart is a culture writer and undergraduate student at UC Berkeley. Her writing has appeared in publications like Complex, Film School Rejects, Nonfics, Women and Hollywood, and Caliber Magazine.