Has this film found the formula for jukebox musical success?
From a romantic film set to the tunes of The Beatles in Across the Universe to tracing the rise and fall of the rock-pop group The Four Seasons in Jersey Boys – the jukebox musical had always been sort of an anomaly.
While met largely with anticipation, the end results often fall flat, with critics lamenting weak narratives that struggle to bridge a connection with the music.
The New York Times slammed the glam-rock loving Rock of Ages, calling it “insipid” and “lacking in grit”, while critics on review website Rotten Tomatoes called the British comedy-drama Walking on Sunshine “crass” and “calculated”.
“The formula is cynically simple,” wrote television producer, Bill Hughes, in a scathing piece for Irish news website, RTE.
“The first step is take a wildly successful and legendary act. Second step, drape their biggest hits over a flimsy and ridiculous storyline that is more pantomime than biography. Third step, direct the cast as though it is an episode of Stars in Their Eyes and voilà, you have a smash.”
He continued, “[These films] are musical reviews. They need to be called something else. They are at best nothing more than an elaborate tribute band, banging out great tunes by lacking the key elements of genuine storytelling, heartbreak and redemption.”
Despite that, there are a few jukebox musicals where song, dance and narrative have been carefully woven together to create a melodic masterpiece.
Films like Moulin Rouge! and the 2016 animated flick Sing both hit all the right notes. And then there’s Mamma Mia!, the 2008 movie based on the stage musical of the same name and inspired by the songs of the Swedish pop group, ABBA.
Buoyed by its blockbuster success a decade ago, the film’s sequel, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, which hits UAE theatres on Thursday 19th July, gathers the original cast including Amanda Seyfried, Meryl Streep, Julie Walters and Pierce Brosnan – for an encore.
In the film, a pregnant Sophie (Seyfried) discovers more about her mother’s past and meets her grandmother – portrayed by none other than legendary singer, Cher – for the first time.
So what is it that makes the film’s insiders so sure they’ve got the formula for success?
For producer Judy Craymer, ABBA’s material translates so well both on stage and in cinema because the songs are relatable, catchy and widely familiar. Add to that the story’s timely theme of women empowerment, friendship and love, and you have a product that speaks to the heart, as much to the ears.
“The story of Mamma Mia! feels more relevant than ever and audiences really have a deep affection for the story and ABBA’s music,” Craymer said.
“The songs and story take you on an emotional journey with music that is magical and irresistible.”
Streep agreed, saying: “There’s an element to the music that is so tender. Its sweetness is real and emotional. The emotional lines of the music and the lyrics blend perfectly.”
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, just like its predecessor, is an unapologetic tribute to one of the best pop groups in history. But it’s also a film with a strong enough storyline that gives us hope for an entertaining film that avoids most of the over-the-top theatrics that define too many films in this genre.
“It’s about love and life. It’s utterly uplifting and moving,” British actress Julie Walters said.
“People will want to dance in the aisles, just like they did in the first one, but I think they will be even more engaged with the characters. This movie has so much depth to it, while still being so much fun.”
Also starring: Lily James, Christine Baranski, Dominic Cooper, Stellan Skarsgård and Colin Firth
Directed by: Ol Parker
Running time: 114 mins
WORDS Ferdinand Godinez