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POP CULTURE REWIND: An ode to Mamma Mia!


Artwork by Ella Stewart

Let’s have a little rewind…

It’s July 2008 and the star-studded film version of the Mamma Mia! has just been released in Australian cinemas! Filled with an all-rounder Hollywood cast, a full soundtrack of ABBA hits, and the most luscious backdrop of Greece – it is simply impossible to hate on this movie.

Let’s dive right into the clear waters of Kalokairi!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade or so, it’s highly unlikely you’re not familiar with the global success story that is Mamma Mia! The ultimate comfort film for teenage girls and their mothers all around the world.

As Charlotte Northedge and Kira Cochrane from the Guardian have stated: “The musical about a single mother, her daughter, and three possible dads invited by the daughter to her wedding – has become a success beyond all comprehension.” The film follows the young and spirited bride-to-be Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) on a journey to find her real father so he can give her away to her groom. The sunny atmosphere of a beach holiday on a Greek island sounds like a dream summer destination.

As director Catherine Johnson got to grips with the screenplay, the production team began considering who might be the right actors for the film version, especially for the main mother-figure role of Donna. In January 2007 it was announced that none other than Meryl Streep – one of the most famous and well-respected American actresses of the past three decades! – had signed on to play the lead role of Donna. When Streep was asked if she’d like to appear in the movie version, her reply was daring and definitely relieved the production team: “Are you kidding? I AM Mamma Mia!

With Meryl Streep on board, there were no issues in attracting a stellar cast for all the main characters. Soon after it was announced that Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård would play the three possible dads. With Julie Walters and Christine Baranski as the parts of Donna’s friends and Amanda Seyfried landing the part as Sophie, Donna’s daughter – it was evident this movie was going to be an ode to mother-daughter relationships.

One of the main reasons Mamma Mia! has that slice of 70’s love and authenticity is the role Björn Kristian Ulvaeus played in the film. As a member of the musical group ABBA, and

co-composer/co-producer of the film, Björn ensured that only perfection was placed into the renewal of his band's original songs. Commenting about his time creating the film and working with Meryl Streep, Björn stated in an interview, “She gives those words a meaning that I never could have hoped for.” With the assistance of Benny Andersson (another member of ABBA) – there is no need to worry about the essence of the Swedish pop band we all love.

One significant element of the film is the creation of the female gaze – its audience clearly made for women. The sexual liberation embedded into each character is executed to perfection, whilst also dismissing the Hollywood trope of sexualising young women. A clear example is the young female character, played by Amanda Seyfried, wearing a one-piece swimsuit throughout the film –

truly reflecting a young woman on the beach in Greece accompanied by her family and friends. As author Naomi Alderman says “'You don't have to be young and sweet and 17”. In fact, a notable feature in this film is the way the men are presented in a sexualised way.

It was insightful to see the pan of male critics when looking at this film. It could just be a lack of exposure towards the female gaze. Instead of the 20-year-old female character as Pierce Brosnan’s love interest, there is more of a father-daughter relationship between them. When you know that’s not going to happen, you relax.

It’s a film of hope, the possibilities of a good life as a woman – instead of a picture perfect expectation of escapism and fantasy. The silly storyline and dialogue just add to the heart of the film – appealing to the true female gaze.

So how does this jukebox musical relate to the issue; M is for Mother?

There is more than meets the eye with this film. When truly dissecting it, as a film studies student inevitably does… every time I see this movie, there is something new to uncover. A recent discovery of mine is the true essence of that mother-daughter relationship.

The exploration of single mothers' relationships with their only daughter is such a niche and gorgeous trope. Mamma Mia! perfectly encapsulates the middle-class relationship where the daughter is the pinnacle of the mother's achievements. It was done in such a way that it became the inner core of the movie - without taking away its colourful and kindred nature.

Sometimes I wish that I could freeze the picture.

And save it from the funny tricks of time

Slipping Through my Fingers

The ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ scene is the pinnacle moment of the film that really resonates with the mother-daughter trope. It is definitely the moment that pinches the heartstrings of my mother and I, trying to grasp all the time we will never have again. The intimacy and raw relationship with Donna (Meryl Streep) and Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) in the reflection of the mirror is showcased with such an immense longing and regret. Definitely a moment that mothers and daughters all around the world can connect with.

So here is my ode to Mamma Mia!, a transformative, wacky, comfort film. It does everything right for me! Everytime I have that particular twinkle in my eye, everyone around me goes… “she watched it… again?”. The gorgeous all-rounder Hollywood cast, a full ABBA soundtrack, and the aesthetic backdrop of Greece creates such an immense longing and ping of hope – that in the future that will be a summer of mine. It pings all of my heartstrings and has me belting the lyrics from start to finish. The feel-good jukebox musical leaves my heart warm and my smile beaming – who just doesn’t love drunkenly singing ABBA songs with your close family and friends on a Greek island?


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