In Which I Muse on Mamma Mia! and Maybe Build to a Point

After I saw Mamma Mia! on stage almost four years ago, people would ask me how it was, and my answer was pretty simple: If you love silly musicals and ABBA, you’ll love it. If you don’t love one or both of those things, you’ll want to rip your own ears off. This is the kind of information I would file under, “Duh. Big duh.” And yet, I’ve read several reviews of the movie version that begin with the reviewer confessing that he or she is not really a fan of ABBA, musicals, or both — then talking about just how much they hated the movie, as if this came as a shock. Really? At least Roger Ebert (who didn’t even like the stage version) acknowledges that his personal distaste for the movie’s central hook diminishes the importance of his opinion to its target market:

[T]here are the wall-to-wall songs by ABBA, if you like that sort of thing. I don’t, not much, with a few exceptions.

But here’s the fact of the matter. This movie wasn’t made for me. It was made for the people who will love it, of which there may be a multitude. The stage musical has sold 30 million tickets, and I feel like the grouch at the party. So let me make that clear and proceed with my minority opinion.

And that right there is one of the many reasons why I love Roger Ebert. He at least gets that he doesn’t get it. (Though for Pete’s sake, he then goes on to bitch about the plot being thin. Once again, this is a MUSICAL based on ABBA SONGS. Are you kidding me?) Contrast this with Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post, who says:

The brassy, bawdy musical “Mamma Mia!” presents itself as a piece of clever counter-programming to this summer’s surfeit of pounding, effects-driven comic-book movies… But filmgoers eager to sample its sunny, synth-pop pleasures are likely to feel just as bludgeoned: in this case by an Abba-bomb wrapped in a huge turquoise-colored feather boa.

Honey, those eager filmgoers are eager precisely because we want to be bludgeoned by an ABBA-bomb. Er… something like that. That’s the fucking point. If you like spangled polyester costumes and infectious ’70s pop and middle-aged women cracking themselves up every ten seconds, a turquoise-boa-wrapped ABBA-bomb doesn’t sound like a bad thing at all. And if you don’t like that stuff, what the hell are you doing at Mamma Mia!? (I mean, besides getting paid to write a review.)

That’s not to say the movie is perfect even if you do love that shit, which I totally do. If half the fun of the stage version for you is its very stageyness, be aware that like 75% of that is gone. (Some of that’s to be expected, obvy, but I’ve certainly seen movie musicals that retain a lot more of that feel.) There’s not nearly enough dancing in it for my tastes, in part because a lot of the musical numbers involve an obsessive focus on the singer, instead of shots big enough to contain the frothy group energy that makes me love musicals. And the only major actor with a typical Broadway voice is Christine Baranski — the others’ voices range from adequate (Pierce Brosnan) to lovely (Meryl Streep, Julie Walters), but they don’t sound particularly ABBAish or Broadwayish here, which cuts the fun somewhat. Also, this means Baranski often ends up sounding like that one lady in church who belts the shit out of hymns from the back row because her domestic suburban lifestyle affords her no other opportunity to show off her pipes — great voice, but it calls way too much attention to itself. On the other hand, when Baranski gets a solo, it is 100% awesome. “Does Your Mother Know?” would be worth the price of admission even if the rest of the movie completely sucked, and that number had me really wishing they’d cast the whole thing with musical theater stars instead of movie stars. (Yeah, I know, there’s overlap there, but seriously, see the movie and tell me Baranski doesn’t scream “BROADWAY DIVA!” while everyone else is screaming, “HI, I’M A FILM ACTOR WHO CAN SING TO SOME DEGREE!”)

Still, the rest of the movie doesn’t completely suck, if you like that sort of thing. No, scratch that — if you love that sort of thing. Al likes both ABBA and musicals all right, but he doesn’t love them like I do, so he went into it with some trepidation (Me: “Where do you want to sit?” Al: “In the theater where The Dark Knight is playing”), and walked out of it demanding that I buy him a drink and quit bitching about having to sit through Crank two years ago. (Never. I will never stop bitching about that.) So if you have any doubts about whether this is your kind of movie, it’s probably not. But I enjoyed it.

And now, I shall attempt to make this post something appropriate to a body acceptance blog, instead of just me rambling about a movie ’cause that’s all I felt like rambling about today. As I said somewhere in comments recently, one of the main reasons I wanted to see Mamma Mia! right away was to support the rare film written, directed, produced by, and starring women — women over 50, at that. And the whole thing surely does have a gallopingly feminine sensibility. This is not just a movie for girls; it’s a movie for girly girls. (I love watching women squeal with delight over each other’s company for like 30 seconds at a time, but I know plenty of other women who wouldn’t, to say nothing of Al.)

Furthermore, it’s a movie that celebrates older girly-girls in a way that invites younger ones — and men — to the party, but never makes it about them. I read somewhere (possibly in comments here) that Meryl Streep said her twentysomething children will be utterly mortified by her performance in Mamma Mia!, and I can totally see that. It’s not just the singing and dancing — she acquits herself perfectly well on both counts — but that the plot (such as it is) hangs on her really, really not acting her age. If it were my own mom up there, I might feel differently, and the movie does occasionally veer a little too much into Red Hat territory for my tastes (i.e., too much self-conscious “Look at us being ZANY! Isn’t it a SCREAM?” action). But mostly, it’s totally believable that once her besties and old boyfriends show up, Streep’s character instinctively starts acting like she’s in her twenties again. That’s kinda what you do. (I end up with a massive hangover after I get together with a certain one of my friends from grad school, every fucking time, and we’re already way too old for it. But somehow, I don’t think that’ll be any different when we’re 50.)

And that’s exactly what’s so charming — and transgressive — about the movie. A bunch of fiftysomething women dance around in disco-era costumes, and it’s meant to look like a good time, not a pathetic joke. There’s not a fat actress in the bunch, of course — or an actress of color, which I forgot to note when I first posted — but still, this is not how we’re used to seeing older female bodies on screen. They’re not desexualized, for one thing — but they’re also not played too far the other way, to the point where the audience is meant to laugh at the old girl thinking she’s still got it. These old(ish) girls do still got it, as a matter of fact. Part of what makes “Does Your Mother Know?” such an awesome number is that Baranski hits the perfect balance between, “Why, yes, of course, a virile young man is hot for me” and “Oh, please, honey, I’m old enough to be your mother.” There’s neither self-deprecation nor self-delusion to it, which is a pretty amazing thread running through the whole movie, actually. Streep and Walters remark on Baranski’s plastic surgery and expensive moisturizer (now with more donkey testicles), but they don’t dwell on being less painstakingly preserved themselves, apologize for looking their ages, or try to tear her down for all the artificial assistance — nor does she suggest they should be doing anything else. They all just are what they are, and they’re cool with it.

Of course, Walters’s big man-chasing number (“Take a Chance on Me”) is played for laughs — she’s the frumpiest of the three and least happy about being single — but the important thing (in context) is, she gets the dude. No matter how baggy her costumes or pushy her character, the message still gets through that any man who would pass on Julie Walters is a stone cold idiot. That’s a message I can get behind. And as for Streep, she gets to make out with Pierce Brosnan. ‘Nuff said.

So okay, let’s talk about Pierce Brosnan — and Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard. It is, frankly, weird to see these three men in supporting roles, while the women completely and utterly take center stage. Though they’re playing Streep’s old boyfriends, these are categorically girlfriend roles; the guys exist mainly to look nice, drive the plot forward as necessary, and sometimes take their shirts off. How fucking rare is that? Although I was thoroughly sick of the phrase “male gaze” by the end of just one feminist film theory class, I must say, I can’t think of another movie I’ve seen that so unabashedly employs the female gaze. Not just because there’s lots of eye candy for straight chicks, but because even male viewers are truly expected to identify with the female characters and see everything through a woman’s eyes. Meaning both that there’s no male hero and that in a movie set on a Greek island, there are no lingering shots of hot young girls in bikinis. Amanda Seyfried is plenty gorgeous in a fairly demure one-piece, but the point is not to be turned on by her, even if you are. Granted, most of the time she’s in a bathing suit, she’s hanging out with men who are old enough to be (and indeed might be) her father, but I can’t help suspecting a male director would have glossed over that pesky little fact and put her in a more revealing suit anyway — ’cause, you know, why waste that body? Meanwhile, when Baranski rocks a somewhat less demure, blazing red one-piece, we are supposed to think she’s hot — but in a way that encourages the viewer to think, “Hey, maybe I’m that hot, too!” not “Yeah, I’d hit that.”

For my money, the female gaze is exactly what throws so many male reviewers about Mamma Mia! The movie, as Ebert noted, wasn’t made for them. It’s not just that the poor widdle straight men are forced to watch a bunch of chicks doing chick stuff to an ABBA soundtrack, it’s that they’re supposed to identify with chicks doing chick stuff. They’re supposed to share in the joy when they hear old girlfriends squealing together, imagine themselves on stage rocking “Super Trouper” in sparkly polyester, and fantasize about what they might do with a shirtless Pierce Brosnan. They’re supposed to put themselves in the metallic boots — and behind the eyes — of a bunch of women, taking the same sort of gender-swapping imaginative leap women are expected to make, oh, only about EVERY GODDAMNED TIME WE GO TO THE MOVIES. Seriously, other movies I have seen this summer: Indiana Jones, Iron Man, Wanted, The Dark Knight. If I tried to identify with the female characters instead of the male heroes in those movies, I’d have been bored right out of my fucking skull. Likewise, the man who watches Mamma Mia! and attempts to envision Pierce Brosnan as someone he wants to be, not someone he wants to bang, is pretty much screwed (so to speak). To enjoy it, you’ve got to want to be Meryl Streep. And men are really not used to being put in that position at the movies because, you know, THEY NEVER ARE.

So, to sum up… It’s nowhere near as electrifying as the stage production, which I highly recommend. But considering a ticket to the movie is a hundred-odd bucks cheaper, I can’t complain too much about that — and the movie has tons of other things to recommend it, including some fucking awesome images of fiftysomething women inhabiting and enjoying their bodies instead of hiding and apologizing for them. I might go see it again just to boggle at that rarity once more.

But, you know, if you don’t love ABBA and musicals, you’ll want to rip your own ears off. That caveat still applies.

100 thoughts on “In Which I Muse on Mamma Mia! and Maybe Build to a Point

  1. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I want to even though I don’t particularly love musicals or ABBA.

    Because I do love middle-aged women (being one, and all). Let me assure you that, at least at 47, it is still phenomenally wonderful to act like you’re 20 with friends who knew you when you were. That doesn’t go away.

  2. I admit, I really only skimmed your review. My taste in musicals is… difficult to predict and I have zero interest in actually seeing Mamma Mia! as much as I love ABBA. But this?

    an Abba-bomb wrapped in a huge turquoise-colored feather boa.

    Sounds like the most awesome way to die by explosion ever. Can it be a glitter bomb?

    Also, Ebert rules. I love him madly.

  3. This made me remember how the critics I work with gushed over *The Producers* when it was put on film a year or two ago.

    I saw the stage version of the show and found it to be a touch dated, and a little offensive because of it. But the point is that the musical is goofy as hell, but was still seen as a legitimate film project because it’s gross to bed old women, it’s not gross to want to bend a blonde Swede over the corporate desk and mincing gay men are just hilarious.

    Mama Mia isn’t legitimate because it exists to tell a story from a female point of view.

    Kate is right. The only time male viewers can relate to a female POV in the movies is if the female doing the viewing is eminently fuckable.

    Don’t even get me started on the dick flick of the summer – Death Race. Who has blackmail photos on Joan Allen? For that matter, don’t get me started on the whining, white guy snivel-fest that is WANTED.

  4. For that matter, don’t get me started on the whining, white guy snivel-fest that is WANTED.

    Oh, me either. Did you see the other thread where we went into that? I don’t remember which one it was now, but yeah. Yeah.

  5. Oh wow, now I want to see this even more than I did before I read your review, Kate!

    Dammit. These are the two busiest weeks of my summer, and in those two weeks, “Mamma Mia”, “The Dark Knight”, and “X-Files: I Want to Believe” are all released. Dammit Hollywood, I have no time to go to the movies! Stop releasing the good movies all at once!

  6. Oooooh, no. But I wrote the review Mo Pie posted on BFD.

    I hated that movie. Liked the performers and the direction, but hated the movie.

  7. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I love the way you remind me I’m not crazy.

    I just had a conversation with my father, who had a brief but cutting comment about how I “keep hanging out online with those feminists,” and it always makes me sad that most of the people in my life are SO not in my corner when it comes to feminism… most of my family and many of my friends, even the girls, seem convinced that women and men are now, if not entirely equal, at least most of the way there, and it’s really just bad form to “whine” about feminism now, because obviously all it does is make me angry, and for some reason it’s alarming and bad for me to be angry, get angry, or express anger.

    I wrote about it a bit in the sugar_for_sugar LJ too (most of the conversation is there), but mostly I just wanted to say thanks for reminding me that I’m NOT nuts, and this IS everywhere, and it IS important.

    Even my boyfriend isn’t really with me on this stuff… I love him, but sometimes I wonder if it might be tough to go the long haul with a man who is more or less anti-feminist… then I recall that encompasses the majority of the male population I’ve thus far in my life been exposed to, and I have little reason to think it doesn’t encompass the majority of the male population of the world, and if indeed I do choose to get married, I should likely be happy to find one who is at least willing to humor me…

  8. To enjoy it, you’ve got to want to be Meryl Streep. And men are really not used to being put in that position at the movies because, you know, THEY NEVER ARE.

    Well, shit then. I’m totally going to see it just for this!

    it always makes me sad that most of the people in my life are SO not in my corner when it comes to feminism…

    You’re such a radical, SugarLeigh, going around thinking that women are people. Don’t you realize we’re past all that?

  9. Awww, sugar…

    There are feminist men out there. Not that you should dump your boyfriend. People can evolve, if they can stick with life through the terrorizing parts of it.

    My family is conservative, Christian and valiantly struggling with my sexual orientation. They are good people with a worldview that protects their power and privilege. But they have awakened, just a little, to the slights the world delivers against some people. My mother is still somewhat convinced that if the world is hard on you, well, you must have earned it somehow.

    And while there might be more synchronicity in relationships between like-minded folks, all relationships cause friction.

    But it can’t feel good to be alone in a worldview.

  10. I saw Mamma Mia in Toronto my senior year of high school (so that would make it 2001 or 2002). I loved it.

    I adore musicals. I admit it. They are my guilty pleasure. I mean, I was totally rocking out to Spring Awakening on the subway earlier (PS I advise everyone to see it, it’s touring soon…I also advise you to appreciate the fact that the two incredibly talented and adorable male leads are leaving B’way for the tour). It’s hard now, though. I don’t drive, so the only place I really listen to music is my iPod in public, which means I can’t randomly bust out into song like I used to in my car.

    That would earn me some serious weird looks, especially if I happen to bust out with “Totally Fucked”

  11. There were many things about Wanted that, while not ideal, I could forgive. I hate all that macho white-guy whining, but I loved Fight Club, so it’s not a deal-breaker for me. Plus, James McAvoy. Yes please. But it lost me with the LOOM of FATE. Seriously? SERIOUSLY?!

    And thank you for reminding me of why I liked Mamma Mia so much. While it wasn’t a great film (and Pierce Brosnan needs to never sing again), it was so fun and just good. Plus, I won some swag before it started because I was the first person to name 3 Abba songs.

  12. I do want to see this movie but the girlfriend who I want to see it with lives about 1000 miles away – we went to see Muriel’s Wedding together way back when and had a blast. We both like ABBA. I miss her.

    I need to think about your points about being Meryl Streep some more, because I think they might be part of the many unconscious reasons I almost never watch movies anymore. I can’t relate to pretty much all the characters in the mainstream movies anymore, and I can’t tell most of them apart, either. And it always amazes people when I tell them I think the last movie I saw in the theater was about two years ago, mostly because there’s nothing I’m interested enough in seeing.

    Maybe I’ll just take myself to see it.

  13. I have no particular love for musicals or ABBA, but I still want to see Mamma Mia because it looks like so much fun. I thought about dragging Mike along to see it with me, but I decided we should go see Batman instead because that’s something we could both enjoy. I’m going to be away for business coming up pretty soon, maybe I’ll go see it myself then.

  14. Oh, and Sugar, my fiance wasn’t feminist when we met. But when he realised how important it was to me, he made an effort to learn more about it and now he’s on board. Maybe your boyfriend will come around?

    TC, that’s an interesting point. I don’t watch many movies either, I mostly prefer tv shows. And I wonder if that’s partly because tv shows have time and room for more characters, and therefore include actual female ones. Hmmm.

  15. I’m so going to see this now! At least, if I can find a theater showing it in english instead of dubbed.

    I love musicals qua musicals and I like ABBA, but the female gaze sealed the deal. Honestly.

    SugarLeigh: don’t give up on the idea of a feminist guy. I’m married to one, too. And there is also a middle ground there, guys who are not necessarily feminist but not anti-feminist either.

  16. I wonder if reviewer Ann Hornaday writes reviews of Sci-Fi movies and bitches about the spaceships.

    I loved this movie. I never thought of myself as an ABBA fan, but for some reason I know most of their songs. I loved the silly lady-ness of it, and being able to see women I’d never see on the big screen, with age appropriate boyfriends. I thought Meryl’s voice was fantastic, and I look forward to seeing this again, maybe in a theatre that let’s you sing along or something.

    I haven’t seen Dark Knight yet because I used up my quota of Angsty Manly Man With Absent Daddy Issues Saves the World on Iron Man, which was at least fun. I know Dark Knight is supposed to be really good, but frankly, I don’t care about the Bat.

  17. My husband WORSHIPS Meryl Streep. But he hates ABBA. So I guess I will go with friends to see this.

    Still, it’s awesome to be married to a man who worships Meryl Streep.

    SugarLeigh: don’t settle for “being humored.” Either your boyfriend needs to grow up and learn not to be anti-feminist (at the very least), or you need a new boyfriend.

    Being respected as a human being should be pretty much a bottom-line requirement of any romantic relationship.

  18. Just in case you thought you couldn’t crush on Colin Firth anymore: in those little interviews at some posh event thing in New York magazine, they asked him how mortifying it was to wear the outfits and he said something like, are you kidding? That’s why I became an actor!

  19. I will never forget the time I rented Muriel’s Wedding and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert at the same time. The Aussieness and ABBAness made them a great combo, but dear God in Heaven, the ensueing earworm drove me up a fucking tree!

    OTOH, Mama Mia does look sort of fun, I’m whole-heartedly in support of any film that gets Julie Walters on my screen, and as long as I have a large bottle of Braino nearby, I think I can get over the aftereffects of too much ABBA on my system.

    Perhaps what I’ll do is sit down and see Mama Mia and then go join Al in the Dark Knight theater. Pass the popcorn, guys!

    The funniest thing of all, though? I think Mr. Twistie would much rather see Mama Mia than Dark Knight. He adores lightweight musical comedies and ABBA music…while I tend to tolerate more than enjoy both. I’m the one who wants to go be seriously creeped out by Heath Ledger.

  20. But it lost me with the LOOM of FATE. Seriously? SERIOUSLY?!

    See, that was sort of one of my favorite parts of the movie, because I looove camp, and let’s face it, a lot of action movies are camp with a bigger budget and lots of things blowing up. I don’t like action movies where too much time is devoted to actual people fighting semi-realistically; give me bending bullets and ludicrous mythologies (or completely insane action sequences, a la Live Free or Die Hard’s “You just killed a helicopter with a car!”) any day.

    But, that’s me, and I’m kinda weird.

    I am sort of sad to hear that the movie is not as goofy and stagy as the musical, since (as mentioned above) I do love silly, stagy things. But I’m gonna see it anyway, because 1) Meryl Streep; 2) ABBA; 3) Amanda Seyfried; 4) Meryl Streep (she gets mentioned twice cuz she’s that awesome).

    Also, this whole post seriously rocks, especially the bit about the female gaze and the fact that yeah, we are expected to identify with dudes whenever we go to the movies. And don’t get me wrong, I have spent the past five days happily babbling to anyone who will listen about how The Dark Knight is basically the greatest movie in the history of movies, but if I have to listen to my guy friends roll their eyes one more time at a so-called “chick flick” just because it stars girls (or for that matter, at me for liking musicals when HI, THEY LIKE STUPID ACTION MOVIES), I might just punch them in the face.

  21. The same thing annoys me when peiople review comic book and action movies and complain about the plot. I DO NOT GO TO FILMS TO THINK DEEP THOUGHTS! I GO TO SEE THINGS ‘SPLODE!

    Which is part of the reason why Hellboy II and Iron Man were a lot better in my opinion than The Dark Knight (especially since HELLO! Barbara Gordon was sitting right there, you know, the girl who in most canon grows up to be Batgirl and gets shot by some guy named THE JOKER and then continues to fight crime as the Oracle but you’re going to give the bat!worship speechifying to JAMES who winds up moving to Chicago and is never heard from again?)

  22. My brother and I always rate trailers with a thumbs up or a sucking noise when we’re seeing movies together (we’re good during the actual movies, I swear), and the first time we saw the Mamma Mia trailer he gave it a much more enthusiastic thumbs up than me. So we saw it together, and he was sold. But he is the rare man who absolutely loves Abba and musicals.

  23. Yeah. Did you guys read the NYT review? I forget who wrote it (on iPhone sorry), but the reviewer felt that Streep embarrassed herself by behaving so “not her age” and I couldn’t help but wonder if what was really meant was, “Old women should NOT remind us that they were once young, sexual creatures.” Parodies on this theme *ahemcougarsahem* are fine, but nothing too honest (even of done while singing ABBA songs).

  24. especially since HELLO! Barbara Gordon was sitting right there

    THANK YOU. I kept waiting for even a tiny little hint that we were looking at baby-Batgirl, in the 2 seconds we did get to look at her. And without wanting to spoil anyone, the fact that they made it clear that James was the most important person in the family seriously fucking irritated me.

  25. I still haven’t seen The Dark Knight but when Iron Man came out and I loved it intensely it really solidified a lifetime of trouble I’ve had with Batman in general so I lost a lot of the geek enthusiasm I had for it. Hellboy II on the other hand, I am still completely stoked about seeing.

    Man, if there were a comic book movie with a soundtrack by ABBA, that would ROCK.

  26. Commercials for Mamma Mia just make me wish I were watching Muriel’s wedding. I LOVED the musical though, so the movie will be awesome.

    SugarLeigh, I’m sorry that you feel so “alone in your principles.” Let me just encourage you not to settle for being humored.

    My boyfriend is not a feminist, but we have lots of interesting discussions about feminism. Just last night we were talking about the Bechdel test. He may not totally get it, or buy into it, but he knows that it is important to me and is always up for a discussion. Him being willing to acknowledge that it is important to me and discuss it with me like I am a person, with valid opinions, who actually knows what she’s talking about is more important to me than him agreeing with with me.

    You may not be able to choose your parents, but you sure as hell can choose who you date/marry. Just sayin’

  27. Mary Sue: I loved Dark Knight, but I noticed the strange absence of Barbara Gordon too. I mean, that would have been the perfect intro for her! WTF?

  28. Also, yes, It, that did make me crush on Colin Firth even more, and I did not think that was possible.

    Dang, me too. And I started crushing on him in Apartment Zero. Is that wrong?

  29. Thank you everybody. I love you all so much!

    I can’t really carry on with the conversation the way I’d like right now, because, well, I am at the boyfriend’s house, heh! We’re going to go see the Dark Night, and find out whether we agree with our friends’ rave reviews and plots to petition for Heath Ledger receiving an Oscar posthumously. XD

    I just felt it was important enough to “check my messages” online so I could tell you all that your comments definitely help. And I do have high hopes that I can, if not win him over to feminism, at least convince him over time that anti-feminism is anti-cool. Because, unlike previous beaus, he at least has a brain and knows how to use the words “I’m sorry.” But I’ve been tossing around in my head lately what things should be “deal-breakers” to me, because we have very open conversations about the relationship and basically, at this point we’re both dedicated to the relationship but both have doubts. We’ve been toying with the idea of forever, but we both want to be SURE about something that momentous.

    I’m not the sort of person who is into “changing people” in a relationship or whatever, but there’s such a fine line between attempt to change and facilitation of growth. So we’ll see, I guess.

    The idea of someone thinking I’m completely awesome and terrific exactly as I am feels a lot like the way I feel about unicorns– I hope they’re out there, but I’m not going to sit around and wait for one.

  30. Yeah, maybe I exaggerated. This was the line that set me off, though, “There is a degree of fascination in watching an Oscar-winning Yale School of Drama graduate mug and squirm, shimmy and shriek and generally fill every moment with antic, purposeless energy, as if she were hogging the spotlight in an eighth-grade musical.”

  31. I usually hate “chick flicks,” musicals, and ABBA, but when I saw the commercials and realized Colin Firth was in it, I had to go. Despite all of that, I had a *great* time and enjoyed it.

    For anyone else who has gone, were the crowds you were with as enthusiastic as the one I went with? The theater was mostly groups of women and they were singing along and clapping at the end of numbers like we were at a musical. I think a lot of my enjoyment came from the fact that the audience was so into it and having a great time–it was so high energy for a movie.

  32. I’m not big on musicals, and I’m not a big ABBA fan (I knew Mamma Mia from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and Dancing Queen from going to a retro club, but that’s it), but I loved the movie anyway. :) It was so much fun!

    As Kate noted in her review, there aren’t any fat leads–but at the very least we have different body types. Baranski is tall and lean, Streep is tall but distinctly pear-shaped, and Walters is short and sort of stocky. Also, as Kate noticed, Seyfried really is NOT sexualized, other than her beach duet with her fiancee, which is mild. I never used to notice thing things; now everything I watch I find myself noticing. :)

    Also, my friend recognized Julie Walters/Rosie–I never would have without the red hair, but she plays Ron’s mum in the Harry Potter movies. :)

  33. I wonder if reviewer Ann Hornaday writes reviews of Sci-Fi movies and bitches about the spaceships.

    No, but Post reviewer Stephen Hunter complained about unrealistic action sequences in V for Vendetta (along the lines of “but he couldn’t possibly be faster than a gun“). Whereas Hornaday’s review of Clerks 2 was perfect, getting exactly to the heart of what was great about the first Clerks and what did and didn’t make it into the second one. It really is about whether you’re going to see a movie you can understand — and, as is the case with great reviewers, whether you can attempt to see the ones you don’t from someone else’s perspective.

  34. I got my fix of Dripping Wet Colin Hotness with a side order of Pierce last Friday evening, life is gooooood.

    We had a group of women behind us singing all the songs, but they didn’t get up and dance at the end of the movie. I still have “Dancing Queen” working as an earworm.

  35. I never go to the movies anymore, but I saw this with my Mom on Friday night and it was totally worth it. We loved it and laughed the whole way through. On the way out, all she could talk about was how she wanted to go see it again with her best friend. We both left the theatre feeling fantastic.

  36. The idea of someone thinking I’m completely awesome and terrific exactly as I am feels a lot like the way I feel about unicorns– I hope they’re out there, but I’m not going to sit around and wait for one.

    I did, and I highly recommend this strategy.

    Not that Mr. Pluvius and I don’t have conflicts–we do, like every couple–but they’re usually about things like being late for dinner instead of fundamentals like gender equality.

  37. Okay, I just went and read that NYT article that atiton linked to, and good lord. This woman needs to learn to lighten the fuck up. “The impression left by the old pros who make up most of the cast is that they have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to prove, and that worrying about dignity is for newbies and amateurs.” This is followed by stating that Brosnan “bellows” his duets, and Firth “consents to appear in a spiked dog collar”.
    Hello … CHARACTERS. ACTING. How is this undignified?

    Also, I found her referring to the character of Sophie as “the just-ripe fruit of a summer fling” absolutely disgusting and dehumanizing. She also praises the “Does Your Mother Know?” solo as the only sexy part—because clearly, a movie full of mostly women needs to be SEXY!

    *headdesk*

    Am I being too sensitive? :)

  38. FWIW, and not surprsingly, A.O. Scott, the Times reviewer, is a man. Not that it would be more or less aggrevating if it were a woman, but just FYI.

  39. Glad to know I’m not the only person who loves Ebert!
    He had me sold me when I read his review for Iron Man, which included this gem:

    “Let us take a moment, now, to thank the creator of that name: Obadiah Stane. You may wish to repeat it, like a mantra, as you go through the rest of your day.”

    I have not seen Mamma Mia but I may, thanks to Muriel’s Wedding actually, which turned me on to ABBA songs. Also, loved The Dark Knight, but it was long and I had to pee twice.

  40. Oh I loved this review because I really couldn’t quite relate to any of the reviews I read (including a very negative one by Stephanie Zacherek in Salon). I agree 100% that the stage version was more fun but I still really enjoyed the movie and enjoyed seeing human beings looking human (I remember a shot of Meryl Streep where you can see all her wrinkles–and it is the most stunning shot of her!) and being unselfconsciously silly. And I heart ABBA. And I loved a movie in which the (*SPOILER*) 20-year old girl realizes that marriage will not help her find her identity and her mom SUPPORTS THAT. I thought the mom/daughter relationship was realistic and touching. Though I admit it is partly because some day I hope to find a sequined jump suit in my mother’s closet.

  41. Thanks so much to those of you who also noticed the Barbara Gordon/Batgirl omission. I kept waiting for the camera to at least show her, and I definitely expected some foreshadowing there. Loved the movie, but that put my teeth way on edge.

    As for Mamma Mia! I had been planning to miss it, but Kate’s essay and these comments are changing my mind. : )

  42. I saw the stage show maybe 6 years ago, and I HATED it. For me, it was the least enjoyable musical I have ever seen on Broadway. So I imagine Kate is right — if this ain’t your thing, it ain’t your thing.

  43. I LOVED the stage show, but when I saw it, the actress who played Rosie (I think? the “Take a Chance On Me” singer) was definitely fat. Not short and stocky; not pear-shaped: fat. So I’m sort of sad that they thinned her down for the movie, but not sad that it’s Julie Walters, though.

    Gotta take my mom. I mean, really: what more do she and I want? A musical-movie written and directed and produced and starring women, from the female gaze, and with Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan AND Colin Firth?

  44. My feminist son took me to see Mamma Mia! We both felt great after the movie. The thing I like best was that, as you hinted in your last paragraph, Kate, women of all ages were full of confidence in their bodies. Not just in how they looked, but in what they could do: work, carry, dance, climb, leap, run, swim, dive, etc. No timidity, no fear. I miss feeling that way sometimes, and some days I still DO feel it.

  45. Oh, man, I totally want to see this now!!

    The mentions you make about the female characters being central, and the male characters being secondary was a big part of why I was happy to see Sex and the City twice (once with my sister, once with my best friend). It was just so refreshing to see a movie where the male characters were the secondary characters for a change, and where women were utterly unabashed in doing what was most important and best for THEM, instead of scuttling their hopes and dreams in favor of making their men happy.

    Admittedly, it’s got its issues, but it really reminded me how easy it is to get used to the world NOT being that way, y’know? Like, when movie after movie treats women as props or prizes or set dressing, it’s easy to start lowering your standards for female characters. It was nice to get a reminder of what I /ought/ to be getting from my movies.

  46. that one lady in church who belts the shit out of hymns from the back row because her domestic suburban lifestyle affords her no other opportunity to show off her pipes

    … Kate, when did you meet my mom? I used to cringe when we went to the ballpark and everybody was droning the National Anthem except this one woman RIGHT NEXT TO ME BUT I’M NOT RELATED I DON’T EVEN KNOW HER GOOD GOD SHE’S LOUD.

    And I adored Mamma Mia and I love the way you put your finger on exactly why I adored it. I went with my best gay friend and he loved it too.

  47. I don’t especially like ABBA or musicals, but I really enjoyed Mamma Mia. It was great fun. And I loved LOVED the Dark Knight too–but not in the same way.

  48. Sounds pretty good; I think I’ll go see it.

    I don’t think I agree (unless I’m misunderstanding something in the assessment) that men are never in that position movie-wise. From Terms of Endearment to Steel Magnolias to Calendar Girls, I think it’s pretty typical of what they call “chick flicks” (of which I’ve probably seen more than I can possibly remember offhand.) Which may be why men don’t usually *like* them much, but it isn’t like they don’t happen fairly regularly.

  49. Kate Harding: “Also, yes, It, that did make me crush on Colin Firth even more, and I did not think that was possible.”

    Oh, no. He’s already my secret movie star boyfriend. This movie may give me a case of the vapors. *swoon*

  50. @sniper, yes, that is not only wrong, it is a sentiment I agree with 100%. One word…flies???

    atiton, I know! And yet, the sexy comes through. Then there’s Valmont (whoa!) and Pride and Prejudice to really drool over.

    Hi, Al!

    Waves at Al.

  51. these are categorically girlfriend roles; the guys exist mainly to look nice, drive the plot forward as necessary, and sometimes take their shirts off. How fucking rare is that?

    One of the reasons I have the movie “Contact” on DVD is because, as Jodie Foster said when it came out, Matthew McConaughey is “playing the girl’s part.” He’s the one urging the hero(ine) to get in touch with her feelings, he’s the one longing for her for most of the film. He’s the one she leaves in bed after sex, watching her rush out the door and going “Call me!”

    For that reason alone, I loved the movie. (Well that and I like Jodie Foster. And Matthew McConaughey.)

  52. oooh now I want to see this movie even more.. the commercial with meryl streep staring thru her legs at those men, and climbing the ladder singing mama mia.. i love meryl streep, and even kurt cobain loved abba :)

  53. I saw Mamma Mia! with my mom and we both loved it. Like other people, I was in such a good mood when I left the theater. That alone was worth the price of the ticket.

    Meryl Streep, Julie Walters, and Christine Baranski are all made of win. Although I like musicals, Meryl was the main reason I wanted to see the film. I love her as an actress, but the only time I’d heard her sing before this was in “A Prairie Home Companion,” where I thought she was just ok. I was worried she wouldn’t be able to pull off a musical, but she impressed me, especially when she sang “The Winner Takes It All.” I thought she looked absolutely gorgeous, as well.

    Another thing I loved about the movie, in addition to the diverse bodies of the older women, was that the older men weren’t thin and ripped. They weren’t fat by any means, but none of them had a six pack. They basically looked like middle-age guys and were presented as shirtless eye-candy. This isn’t as unusual as seeing older women who look their age being portrayed as sexual, but I thought it was pretty refreshing (and hot), nonetheless.

    atiton: Anyone who complains that the actors were “undignified” seriously doesn’t get it.

  54. Oh em gee, Colin Firth. Love love for him. And love love for the female main characters. I’m sick of seeing movies where the females are either sidekicks to do stupid things and look pretty, or a main character who has a clothing phobia. But mostly I just loved the silly girlishness and dancing.

    Unfortunately I spent the whole movie thinking ‘is that the girl from Mean Girls?’

  55. One of my absolute pet peeves is reading a review by a movie critic who hates whatever the genre is and can’t get past zir feelings on it to judge the movie on its own merits. The two reviewers in our local paper hate sci-fi and movies with women so I’ve learned that if they pan it, I’ll probably love it.

    Mama Mia looks awesome and I’ll be going soon, but probably after Batman and X-Files.

    I did actually like Wanted–I laughed a bit at the Loom of Fate, but it does at least have a mythical precedent, but the explanation for the curving bullets made me spew coke out of my nose.

    And, um, *blush* Death Race is exactly the kind of movie I love. Hot boys driving fast and blowing sh*t up? Yes, please. It’s my partner who thinks those kinds of movies are too silly–I had to watch Live Free or Die Hard by myself.

  56. I enjoy ABBA, and I LOVE musicals (I study them), and I haven’t seen the stage show or the musical because of the latter. It’s not a very *good* musical. Not all musicals are or should be whisper-thin excuses for flailing about in thalo-green lycra.

    If I want an ABBA-bomb (and sometimes I do), I’ll just put on a CD. If I want a retro-styly celebration of heteronormativity (which happens when, exactly?) to go with that bomb, I might go. But that’s probably not going to happen.

    I have to see it anyway for something I’m working on. I’m glad to hear that you found plenty of redeemable qualities it. I hope I can see a few of them

    Also, Mary Sue? If you noticed that Barbara Gordon was a cipher and this pissed you off, you DO “THINK DEEP THOUGHTS” about pop culture.

  57. I agree with everything you’ve said! I came out of the cinema thinking that the film was so positive in its portrayal of women: older women being sexual but not overly sexual; marriage not being seen as the be-all-and-end-all that it usually is; Donna’s strength as a single mother being celebrated; little judging of Donna for having slept with three men in a few weeks; and Donna’s daughter having freedom and talent and courage. I loved it, I’m glad someone else sees it as very pro-woman, or whatever it’s called.

  58. I loved it. Meryl Streep’s character reminded me SO much of my mother (in a good way!) and I loved that it was just… women having a good time and being themselves and ENJOYING LIFE. And I love musicals but in a “passionate fan” way, and I love cheesy pop music, and I just generally had a really good time giggling my way through the movie.

    Also, Dominic Cooper. Nom nom nom!

  59. I love musicals, love Meryl Streep, and like ABBA a lot. But I didn’t quite like the film. I think Meryl, Christine and Julie sing very well, but I wasn’t enthusiastic about Amanda. And what was that coming out of Pierce Brosnan’s mouth? A VOICE?! In the crowded movie theater where I watched the film, everybody laughed when he started singing. It’s awful. But I think the main problem is that the choreograhpy sucks. I mean, I usually expect musicals to have great songs and great dance numbers. If a musical just concentrates on the singing, it’s leaving half of the good stuff out.
    On the other hand, I left with the feeling that I had seen a rare feminist film, acted, directed, written and produced by women. And this is such a rare feat that sorry, I won’t say anything too negative about the movie. Besides, the Dancing Queen number, where all the women (including fatties) leave whatever they’re doing and start singing, is truly liberating. It even brought (three) tears to my eyes.
    http://www.escrevalolaescreva.blogspot.com

  60. I, as someone who loves ABBA and musicals absolutely adored it. My boyfriend, as someone who who not averse to, but quite likes those things also loved it, which is awesome!

    I loved that the women weren’t constantly sexualized and the film was about women – middle aged women- who totally rock it! How freaking awesome is that, I must repeat!! It’s interesting that at the begining you get the idea that it will be about Seyfried’s character, then before you know it you are sucked into the story of her awesome mother!

    I was a little annoyed at the lack of fat characters, but I must say that I loved the body diversity I saw in the greek chorus, and that they just joined in the dancing because it’s fun!

    It does get on my nerves when people try to view it on terms that were never meant for it. For example, my mum’s boyfriend on seeing the trailer, “Well, I’ve been to Grease a number of times and I can’t imagine the people going dancing through the street.” IT’S A FUCKING MUSICAL! OF COURSE THEY’RE DANCING IN THE STREETS!

    *ahem* Anyway, I <3 Mamma Mia.

  61. What a great little piece of writing this is. I LOVE that you talked about how men are never, ever called upon to identify with women, but women must identify with men their entire lives.

  62. Y’know, I wasn’t planning on going to see this. There’s too much other stuff playing right now and I’ve spent waaaaay too much money at the movies this summer and C’MON this is a movie FOR MY MOTHER but…

    I like ABBA, because my babysitter when I was a wee little devil would play ABBA songs all the live-long day. ABBA is awesome. And I like musicals. Lots and lots. And this review? With all the postive femaleness? …damn it! Why am I NOT watching this?! I’m gonna go see this tomorrow at the matinee. I just wish my mom and sister were in town so I could drag ‘em along with me.

  63. AnnieMcPhee:

    I think it’s pretty typical of what they call “chick flicks” (of which I’ve probably seen more than I can possibly remember offhand.) Which may be why men don’t usually *like* them much, but it isn’t like they don’t happen fairly regularly.

    But these “chick flicks” (ie films made with the female gaze) are not seen as a serious, generally acceptable genre of film. They’re what “chicks” go to see. They’re what no self-respecting man would be caught dead being dragged to.

    You could say that there is an equivalency of some sort with the macho guy action flicks, made unabashedly with the male gaze and made “for guys”, but then there’s the fact that a hugely disproportionate number of mainstream movies are also made with the male gaze.

    In other words (and I promise after this I’ll stop throwing the word “gaze” around, as it’s starting to sound funny to me):

    1. a movie made with the male gaze = mainstream, could be a drama, an action movie, a romance, a comedy, etc.

    2. a movie made with the female gaze = “chick flick,” a subpar level of filmmaking only meant to lightly entertain silly girly-girls who want to cry and cry and torture their husbands and boyfriends.

    So even though females are expected, the majority of the time, to wrap themselves around a gaze that is not their own, men are excepted (in fact, even expected) to reject doing the same thing. A woman who rejects a movie which doesn’t have any characters she can identify with is being too serious and sensitive and should lighten up; a man who does the same is just being a man who, well, obviously doesn’t like chick stuff.

  64. Thought I would follow up as a general add-on:

    My bf have been having trouble along these lines lately. Our official policy, which sounds great on paper, is that we only go to the theater to see movies we’re both excited about seeing. No forcing the other to see a movie he/she is not interested in.

    So, here’s a line-up of a few of the movies that we have been to: Hellboy, Dark Knight, 30 Days of Night, Descent, 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up.

    What’s missing are the many movies that I have wanted to see–dramas, romances, etc.–that Mr. Ento is not interested in at all. The fact is that I have a very broad range of tolerance for male gaze (being, you know, exposed to it endlessly through all aspects of media for my entire life), which makes me able to enjoy the types of movies we have seen (and don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed all of them). The fact that they objectify women, have large amounts of violence, and are heavily saturated with the male–uh, “glaze” (told you I wouldn’t say it again!)–do bother me, but not so much as to make me not enjoy the movie, if it is a good movie. Since males are not used to putting up with (or hell, enjoying!) the female–uh, “maze”–Mr. Ento sees it as perfectly natural that he not want to see films such as Mama Mia, Evening, Brideshead Revisited, etc.

    End result being: he gets to see pretty much every film in theaters that he is interested in seeing. I get to see about half.

    Although, he will usually let me put him through the ringer on DVD. }:)

  65. So even though females are expected, the majority of the time, to wrap themselves around a gaze that is not their own, men are excepted (in fact, even expected) to reject doing the same thing. A woman who rejects a movie which doesn’t have any characters she can identify with is being too serious and sensitive and should lighten up; a man who does the same is just being a man who, well, obviously doesn’t like chick stuff.

    Thanks for that, EntoAggie. I’ve been too distracted to give Annie’s comment a good response.

  66. Sorry to tag this on the end of the serious convo, but…

    Two words: Greek chorus! Made me giggle. every. single. time. heeheeheeeeee…

    Also, if you are a design/arty geek of any type, the lighting and many of the sets were teh gorgeous.

  67. Okay. I love Abba and I love cheese, but I take issue with the misuse of the word “Transgressive”. It’s only “transgressive” if you’re a white woman, which you are. Because it’s cute for white women to do things (see Juno) that women of color are often beaten for doing (see Juno again). So this “who’s your baby daddy” is all cute for white audiences with the harmless and (and lovely, I love me some Miss Streep) white protag, but to call this foolishness transgressive, um, hello white privilege. It certainly didn’t feel that way to me. But you know, I’m black chick who feels way alienated in the way in which y’all fat whites act as though your fatness is the be all and end all of oppression.

  68. Also, I should note, pointing out the lack of minorities in a movie, for me, is right up there with “Some of my best friends are…” and tacking more letters at the end of organizations to demonstrate inclusion.

    That said. I really loved the movie.

  69. Angelina, that’s an excellent point about the “Who’s your baby daddy” bit being very different for white characters than black ones. That’s not what I was calling transgressive, though. And I maintain that fiftysomething women being unabashedly sexual on screen — without it being played as a joke — is transgressive for Hollywood. Certainly not earth-shatteringly so, but it’s something.

    But you know, I’m black chick who feels way alienated in the way in which y’all fat whites act as though your fatness is the be all and end all of oppression.

    To be honest, I’m not sure how to respond to that in a way that doesn’t sound like, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” So I won’t even blow sunshine up your ass. I feel that’s an unfair characterization of the bloggers here, period.

    Also, I should note, pointing out the lack of minorities in a movie, for me, is right up there with “Some of my best friends are…”

    Well, the thing is, part of trying to maintain awareness of one’s privilege is noticing and mentioning who gets left out. I acknowledged that that was an afterthought for me precisely because it’s a good example of my privilege in action — the lack of actors of color didn’t jump out at me until I thought about it — and I wanted to make sure I mentioned it, because we have a whole lot of readers here who, like me, are learning to examine their privilege. Part of white privilege is simply not consciously registering when a movie (or TV show, or town…) is almost completely white. So I think it’s important to make a deliberate mention of that for myself and all the readers who are trying to get in the habit of noticing, even if it sounds to you like I’m just phoning in a bit of inclusive language.

  70. To be honest, I’m not sure how to respond to that in a way that doesn’t sound like, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” So I won’t even blow sunshine up your ass. I feel that’s an unfair characterization of the bloggers here, period.

    Of course if feels “unfair”. Nobody likes to be told, especially white allies, that their behavior is alienating. And actually, I probably should’ve even written that, but felt I needed to present my oppression credentials, lest I be accused of being a white translator.

    And while it’s nice to see women over 50 being sexual, that is still not a reason enough to be considered transgressive. My point was that transgressive acts are those which reinvigorate the discourse, which this did not. I guess if Julie Walters was the main character, that might have a chance at approaching transgressive. But then, I guess I haven’t gotten over my crush on Ms. Walters circa Educating Rita. This of course has nothing to do with your point.

    I guess I am weary at seeing stuff so clearly problematic celebrated by people who claim to be allies. Though I’ll be honest I don’t like the word “ally” and generally run from people who self ascribe such status.

    And while I’ve been out of the self-righteous activist game for quite a while, coming to the FA (which is new to me in terms of being a movement, though the sentiment is old school in my family) movement at this point feels very much like all the whiny white girls of the riot grrrl age ranting about boys, lipgloss and the patriarchy.

    If I sound snarky, I apologize. I’m just way bitter and over pretty much all things related to activism and allies and inclusion.

  71. To call this foolishness transgressive, um, hello white privilege.

    Hm. I tend to be most moved by issues of class, which is certainly intersectional with gender and fat, and I’m sort of confused to what this means. Aren’t we all fighting contextual battles?

    I have been exhausted and alienated hearing privileged people whose words completely nullify or diminish a great struggle they don’t identify with. Class is the big one I’ve experienced, so poverty is the lens through which I see; it is through reading and dialogue and theory I’m learning other lenses, but where *I* push my own life coded boundries is re: class.

    If I’m interpreting you correctly, I’d agree that wondering about whether you can be viewed as powerful and sexual and respected and non invisible as an monied hetero able bodied white woman is definitely about white monied women finding parity with white monied men.

    But it feels like you’re suggesting that a battle, because privileged, is a waste of time or somehow not a battle?

    The fact that an ABBA based rom-com musical is mainly white, hetero, able bodied, and wealthy isn’t terribly surprising given hollywood, but that it’s got gaze in a different place in the narrative is sort of surprising to me given hollywood, privileges aside.

    I respect you may not find it a worthy battle; there are hundreds of privileges in this movie, stacked on one another, that allow this to be the main driving transgression.

    But?… It seems to me the more we hate ourselves, the more likely we kick other people. I guess that’s where I put my hope.

    Looking at a different musical: if you had a culture of FA at home you may also be less impressed than I was by the FA content in the movie Hairspray, which felt like a ticker tape parade for me.

    That the race issues Hairspray dealt with are Far Fucking Worse in the real world than the Fat Issues is simply true.

    Period.

    But as a white chick, the “hate the fat” is what shuts me down into a ball in my bathroom and I’m no good to anybody there. For me, fighting in context is like putting on the oxygen mask in the spiraling airplane. I don’t have strength to not be a self involved putz if I’m too busy deciding that I’m worthless from a place of class, gender, and body size; small things to overcome comparitive to the vast majority of people on this planet, but the difference between being silent and speaking to the individual. So much of prejudice and ignorance and hate seems fear projected outward on other groups as if they were symbols and not people. Control, oppression, theft, enslavement from what is feared in self and community.

    Is Kate prioritizing white female middle class CR struggles here? She’s middle class (I believe) and white, so it seems to me she HAS to. She’s got to analyze her cultural space for her own sanity, and she can’t be speaking experience she doesn’t have.

    In this space, however, I have felt myself included when I’ve suggested a difference of viewpoint on class, and I’ve watched everyone do work around other oppressions, so I’m not sure how it’s problematic for her to mention her awareness of privilege? It has made me feel okay to bring up my own stuff.

    Of course, there should be a lot more diversity in the world of movies, holy cow.

    I also know this sort of liberalist challenge to world view is the soft peddle and fraught with all sorts of problems. I’ve got a very good friend who gets Teh Heebies because he feels it’s time to just DO something, CHANGE something, rock it up and not feel smug. I guess I’m suspicious of revolution: it looks like same shit different pile when the dust settles. So it’s the best hope I’ve got, until someone figures out how to make people less tribal and hateful and cruel.

  72. Thank you for nailing so precisely some of the things I’ve been trying to articulate to my friends and coworkers about this movie about empowered and unabashedly sexual mature women. I’m afraid I decided to be lazy and just point people to your site in my blog rather than trying to reinvent the wheel that you have rolling so nicely. Just wanted to let you know you’ve picked up several new fans.

  73. Of course if feels “unfair”. Nobody likes to be told, especially white allies, that their behavior is alienating.

    Yeah, I’m familiar with Privilege 101, but I’m afraid no amount of painful introspection is going to make me wake up one day and say, “Gosh, Angelina was right. I DO act like my fatness is the be-all and end-all of oppression!”

    “[W]hiny white girls of the riot grrrl age ranting about boys, lipgloss and the patriarchy” is arguably a fair criticism of what actually goes on here. But saying we “act as though our fatness is the be-all and end-all of oppression” is crap. Fatness is our number one topic here because it’s a fucking fat acceptance blog — telling us we focus too much on fat in this context really smacks of “Why are you concentrating on X when Y is so much more important?” As tigtog put it, “People talk about subjects that interest them and that they are passionate about because these tend to be the areas in which they have the most experience. Choosing to concentrate on one thing does not mean that the person thinks that it is the most important subject, or that it’s the only subject that they ever focus on.”

    My point was that transgressive acts are those which reinvigorate the discourse, which this did not.

    All right, but that’s a pretty particular definition of “transgressive.”

    I guess I am weary at seeing stuff so clearly problematic celebrated by people who claim to be allies.

    I hear that. And that does call for potentially painful introspection. I certainly spend enough time complaining about fauxgressives who shit on women and/or fat people.

    coming to the FA (which is new to me in terms of being a movement, though the sentiment is old school in my family) movement

    Okay, that’s interesting to me. Because for myself and I daresay the majority of readers here, the sentiment is not old school in our families. In fact, most of us grew up in families that taught us being fat was a shameful, disgusting moral failure. Many of us grew up feeling like we quite literally did not deserve love because of the size of our bodies — our own families were too embarrassed by us (and in many cases, themselves) to make us feel safe. (Take this example, for one.) And that’s one big reason why we are so concerned with X around here, even though Y is so much more important in the scheme of things. Too many fat (and not even so fat) kids are taught to hate themselves by their own fucking parents. Taught that the desire to eat is shameful, by their own fucking parents. Taught that they’ll never be loved if they don’t slim down, by their own fucking parents. And that’s not just because all those kids happened to get stuck with shitty parents — it’s because their parents are products of a fat-hating culture, which is what this blog is devoted to analyzing and resisting.

    If I sound snarky, I apologize. I’m just way bitter and over pretty much all things related to activism and allies and inclusion.

    Again, not sure how to respond to this. I mean, I get what you’re saying — I’ve felt it many times myself — but what you’ve just said, in essence, is that you’re bitter about/over this blog’s raison d’etre. And if that’s the case, I’m not sure why you’re here.

    I’m glad you’re here, mind you. I like smart readers who challenge me to think about my blind spots. But I don’t like seeing a well-worn silencing tactic dressed up as a lesson in white privilege, or seeing insults dressed up as critical analysis.

  74. Arwen, agreed, agreed, and agreed. Thank you so much for writing this – and for doing it far more eloquently than I would have. I have been thinking about Angelina’s comments quite a lot. They just wreak of “but my oppression is so much worse” or “why are you praising X when you should be fighting against Y.” I hope that I am wrong about that – I just don’t know how else to phrase what I’m feeling. The writers here are obviously not “just way bitter and over pretty much all things related to activism and allies and inclusion” so I guess I am wondering why Angelina is trying to make Kate aware of her privilege (which, as you said, I think she is quite aware of). Do I enjoy facing my privilege? Fuck no. Do I appreciate being told when I am not recognizing it? Fuck yes. But I also appreciate not being spoken down to or laughed at for my naivety.

    I, too, look at everything through a class lens primarily – NOT because I’m a Marxist, but because I am poor. Poor poor poor. As in poverty poor. Thank the universe for financial aid loans and grants, otherwise we would be in a really, really bad place. I think that the writers here have either been there or are able to step out from their relative financially stable lives to recognize that we aren’t all able to shop for organics, buy new outfits, etc. Beyond that, I think that they (and most people who comment) are able to step outside of their reality (being white, young, able, female, or what-have-you) to recognize that there are many other people who are facing discrimination, harassment, being ignored, etc. and try to talk about that; to raise awareness.

    Like I said, no eloquence from me. Some of that can be posed directly to Angelina, obviously – I didn’t mean for it to sound like I was talking around her. Part of what makes this blog great is that we ARE able to bring in opposing viewpoints, as long as it is respectful, and that we are open to new insights. Smacking Kate down because she brought attention to the ageism in movies isn’t ignoring her privilege.

    And I just reread the “self righteous activist game” quote. Wow. So now trying to raise awareness and help marginalized people is being self righteous. Call me a self-centered bitch, then, because I plan to do that until I am no longer breathing.

    Also, in all honesty, I would really like some clarification of this from Angelina (or anyone else who can illuminate me):
    “Also, I should note, pointing out the lack of minorities in a movie, for me, is right up there with “Some of my best friends are…” ”
    It may very well be my privilege showing, but I don’t see how noticing that certain groups of people are not being represented is the same as ‘some of my best friends are.’ Wouldn’t that fall into the colorblindness argument?

  75. I am terribly confused about how Angelina knows that everyone here is white. Because really, in a relatively anonymous space like this one, that seems like a pretty big assumption.

  76. I am terribly confused about how Angelina knows that everyone here is white. Because really, in a relatively anonymous space like this one, that seems like a pretty big assumption.

    The person who wrote the entry is white. It’s a secret. Also, not sure what value this adds to the discussion. It’s not an assumption, given the way in which race discussions are handled. It’s also not a value judgment. It’s just a discription.

    I am definitely not playing “I’m so oppressed.” Because honestly, I don’t feel that way. I am excited about FA collective work. I am excited to “be here” though it was little bit of “Oh no!’ reading about Momma Mia in a way that seems to ignore its problematic trope (which Kate addressed, so not sure why people are harping). I liked what she had to say and thought I was explaining where I was coming from about my weariness on these issues. Kate provided a really nice response, which challenged some of my assumptions. There’s no need to dogpile. I get this is her blog.

    It may very well be my privilege showing, but I don’t see how noticing that certain groups of people are not being represented is the same as ’some of my best friends are.’ Wouldn’t that fall into the colorblindness argument?

    It might be. I swear for me it’s the new “Some of my best friends are black.” Now this isn’t a monolithic feeling, because people of color are not a monolithic group. While Kate clarified the context, this doesn’t negate others use of it as a silencing tactic. “You don’t get to call out the problematic nature of X because I’ve acknowledged it already.”

    As for the fat thing. The way my fat intersects with my race, queerness, IS a part of my struggle and definitely my relationship to my fat (no matter how awesome my family was) is complicated by hateful messages directed at me both as a fat woman and black woman. I wasn’t trying to say it sucks more in general, I was trying to say it sucks more to ME. I’m also not trying to pooh pooh the struggle of others, just giving my thoughts about how it looked to me.

    I came here because people have mentioned how awesome the blog was, and the first thing I see is the celebration of a trope that generally is hurtful as it relates to woman of color, forgive me it my hackles go up.

    And that’s about all I’m going to say on the matter. I appreciate all the responses to me.

  77. “It’s only ‘transgressive’ if you’re a white woman, which you are. Because it’s cute for white women to do things (see Juno) that women of color are often beaten for doing (see Juno again).”

    I feel dense because this comment is dead-on, yet I didn’t really think about or notice the glaringly raced (and classed) treatment of pregnancy upon learning Juno‘s premise or while watching the movie. But that’s privilege at work again.

    You’ve given me a lot of food for thought, Angelina.

  78. Angelina, I apologize for my comment about the racial makeup of the commenters on this blog. There’d been a debate a few months ago in which a commenter made assumptions about who is commenting here and who isn’t, which were simplistic and unfair. I conflated your comments with hers, and responded testily. I apologize.

  79. Great review – thanks! I took my 9 year old daughter to it because I loved the idea of a movie with women and their friendships as a central part of the story. Plus, that much singing and dancing was fun. To disagree with others, I thought Colin Firth was way cute, but miscast–he looks a good 10 years younger than Brosnan and Sarsgard.

    This is also why I let my daughter watch Legally Blond 2 over and over! (Despite some parts of it I don’t love) It’s one of the only movies I’ve seen where the boyfriend just exists to say “You go, honey” to the main character.

  80. I loved this movie. I’m so happy I got to see it with my mother, because she was about to go on vacation and instead postponed because we wanted to go to see it together. I loved the movie, and it made me want to go see the stage version. I love the occasional hokey movie and, well, glitter! And the scene where Donna paints her daughter’s toenails made me a little teary-eyed.

    That said, Pierce Brosnan has a nice speaking voice but they damn well should have dubbed his singing over. (Colin Firth, thou art forgiven for making The Accidental Husband. We will pretend

    And as long as someone’s brought up race in Mamma Mia, I liked the “Does Your Mama Know You’re Out” scene, but it was interesting that the one non-background black role was the one sexxin up the older white woman. I appreciated the younger guy attracted to the older woman just ‘cos aspect, but I thought of the trend for wealthy white women to pick up young poor black men on vacations and was sort of skeeved out by that. It made me glad the song ends with her not continuing the flirtation; it felt like although her relationships might be temporary, they weren’t as likely to be based in power inequities. But it did make me wonder, in part because he’s the only black actor with a role bigger than “backup dude.” (Even if he’s still a secondary/tertiary character at best.)

  81. Damn it, I gotta remember to edit my comments.

    The end to the second paragraph should read “We will pretend this movie does not exist.”

  82. I want to see it with my mom. This movie makes me want to see it even more than I did, and makes me want a mom and me date! Wierdly enough I think my dad wants to go see it, and he’s not feeling that great lately, so we should humor him, it may have to be a mom, MA, and dad date, but I WILL see it :D

    But I love ABBA. Mom would always play ABBA when she was cleaning the house when I was a kid :D My favorite ABBA song by far is SOS, I am such a sucker for sad songs, and seeing as I am also obsessed with John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers I love youtubes of him covering SOS (this is the cheesiest of the videos visually but the best audio if you want to hear it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79fLzqwdePE )

    And Sugar Leigh – I do kind of know how you feel, not having people understand your feminist leanings. If a guy is a decent person and has respect and tolerance as they get older it will grow into a true appreciation of feminism. I know tolerance isn’t the ideal, but it’s a start of growth – if they treat women like people long enough eventually they will see us as people. I mean there is a difference between a guy who when he does something to hurt a woman, eventually feels bad about it and some stupid jerk who’s just evil. Even before they “get” feminism and understand you completely they can still make the right choices out of love, I am dealing with the same thing and I’ve grown to accept guys who don’t 100% get it but are good guys and try to just totally ignore the assholes.

  83. Had never seen the stage production and was vaguely familiar with ABBA tunes but LOVED the film! Glad you were wrong on this one, Kate Harding!

  84. Loved it, have been twice ( and am 59!) and the women loved it, in fact the after-movie laughter and talk in the ladies room was as much fun as the movie. How refreshing to sse a movie where OLDER women are still sexy and the older men decorative! We all ( the 20 women in the ladies room who stayed longer than needed just to share and bond!) thought the guys were HOt! Loved it. If you haven’t gone, go. Take your girl friends!

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