MAMMA MIA! Is Still a Glittery, Campy Celebration of Strong Women 10 Years Later

This week is the tenth anniversary of the first Mamma Mia! movie, and with the sequel hitting theaters this Friday, July 20, it’s time to celebrate the greatest, campiest explosion of glitter and Swedish pop music the world has ever seen.

Mamma Mia! holds a very special place in my heart. I’m jealous of the relaxed, sun-tanned lifestyle of a remote Grecian island. I’m jealous of Donna’s independence and ability to rock overalls. I’m jealous of Sophie’s whimsicality and three possible dads who are equal parts awesome and tone deaf. But as much as I admire the aesthetics, music, and tongue-in-cheek attitude of this film, I also admire how it celebrates what it means to be a woman.

First, it encourages a sense of independence among these women. Donna runs the inn all by herself,, fixing it up, cooking and cleaning, and dealing with customers and the locals. She also raised Sophie all by herself, a point she brings up multiple times. And if you ask me, she seems to have done a pretty good job with both of those things.

Sophie has her own agency as well. She’s the one who invites her three potential fathers to the island and sets the movie’s events in motion in the first place. And of course, at the end of the film, she forgoes getting married in order to live her dream of traveling with her fiance, as opposed to staying home and taking care of the inn. This is a complete subversion in what we would normally see in romance films, which often end in marriages (a trope that dates back to Shakespearean plays), as well as what is expected of women.

Then we have Donna’s best friends Rosie and Tanya. Rosie is an exuberant, fun-loving author, while Tanya is a rich woman, three times divorced. These are women who do not follow conventional expectations for how a woman is supposed to act either–they’re free, loud, unafraid to be themselves.

There are plenty of men in the movie, sure, but they are in the background for the most part. The men are sexualized to a certain extent, like in “Lay All Your Love On Me” or “Does Your Mother Know?” which is another interesting inversion of what we often see in film. And even if the men are objectified in certain scenes, it feels as though it is more poking fun at these tropes than anything else. This is a musical based upon music by ABBA; I don’t think it could be mean-spirited even if it tried.

Surprisingly, the men in this film, specifically Harry, Sam, and Bill, are super wholesome. They’re all in love with Donna, but instead of turning on each other in jealous competition, they all decide to be a part of Sophie’s life in some way, supporting her and loving her, whether they’re her real dad or not. Sky is also very supportive of Sophie and helps her mom by creating a website for the inn. Wholesome.

In the same breath, the movie explores female sexuality in a way we don’t often see. Donna doesn’t know who Sophie’s father is out of three possible men, but this is not seen as scandalous or shameful. We also see Rosie and Tanya are completely free with their sexuality as well in “Take a Chance on Me” and “Does Your Mother Know?” respectively.

I also want to take a moment to talk about the scene where Donna is helping Sophie get ready for her wedding. While a lot of the film is pretty goofy or cheesy, this is a sincere, heartfelt moment amongst all of the spandex and the sequins. There’s great chemistry between Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried, and they do an excellent job of showing how strong a mother-daughter bond can really be. All set to the ballad “Slipping Through My Fingers,” this is a scene that gets me choked up every time.

The most empowering moment of the film comes during the rendition of “Dancing Queen.” Toward the end of the number, Donna, Rosie, and Tanya lead all of the women of the village down to the docks, everyone jumping, skipping, and waving their arms along the way. We see them tearing off aprons and throwing down heavy bundles or other work, a physical representation of releasing themselves from those aforementioned expectations. This all comes to a head on the docks, where we see women of all ages, sizes, and colors break into a choreographed dance routine. It’s a celebration, where they can completely let loose and be their own Dancing Queen. I know that’s cheesy, but what exactly were you expecting here? There’s just something special about seeing this group groove to ABBA’s most famous song.

It’s a movie with a primarily female cast that focuses on female stories of motherhood, female friendship, and independence. In a time when women are constantly being told who to be and how to act, we could learn a lot from the ladies of this film. And with no musical outlining the plot for the sequel, we’re looking forward to the surprises Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again will bring this weekend, and that includes every glittery, glamorous, off-key note.

Image: Universal Pictures

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