The Mamma Mia! Maniac
Personal Essay / Review by Paige Taylor
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I have this little problem when it comes to my interests. I never just like something. No, no, I have fixations. If something gets introduced to me and I honest-to-goodness enjoy it, I find myself wanting to envelop myself with it, wanting to savor the joy this new discovery has given me for as long as possible. My fixations are usually simple enough- anywhere from Spider-Man to Paper Mario to Glee to Star Wars to plants. The good news is that in time my fixations decrease to a healthy level of fondness... but I can never predict what the next one might be.
And I promise you, hand over my heart... I never thought I’d find myself fixated on Mamma Mia!(2008).
It all began a mere 10 days ago as I perused various streaming services, in my pajamas at noon, craving something set somewhere in Europe that didn’t require a whole lot of mental effort to grasp its meaning. (I am a depthless slob on my days off.) And that is how Mamma Mia! caught my eye.
I wouldn’t call myself a film snob or a cinephile but I feel like my standards for movies are a fragment higher than your average Joseph. With this in mind, I buried myself into the couch with the expectation that Mamma Mia! would bring me secondhand embarrassment and that I’d spend most of my time on my phone playing Words with Friends. I was wrong.
As the movie cartwheeled from ABBA song to ABBA song at unjustifiable speeds with a plot that didn’t matter and a cast that didn’t make sense, I felt my emotions unfurl from my chest and blossom to the point of no return. I was putty in Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried’s jazz hands. I couldn’t resist! Here they were doing clumsy ABBA karaoke on this idyllic Greek island where it seemed like every resident was elated just to be alive and ready to party at any moment- who wouldn’t want that?
The sheer level of enthusiasm and energy everyone exhibited actually reminds of the war boys from Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). The thing about the war boys is that all of them are ready to die in battle but they’re so fucking hype about it that you can’t help but feel like screaming, “WITNESS ME!” with them. Mamma Mia! puts out that same level of vigor except you aren’t yelling about wanting to die historic on the Fury Road, you’re yelling because you’re the dancing queen, young and sweet, and only 17.
Self-serving hand-drawn animated gifs aside, the point I’m trying to make is this dumb musical was so infectiously joyful that I’ve been addicted to its euphoria since I’ve watched it. I have listened to ABBA every single day since. I have run to my car to get to work and blasted "Chiquitita" with the eagerness of someone who’s just discovered a love for crack. I am deep in this blissed out state of 70’s Swedish pop band delirium and honestly? I do not care to escape.
For those of you that lead dull, ABBA-less lives, you might find it surprising that I am far from alone in my Mamma Mia! madness. With the recent release of the second Mamma Mia! film the internet is flooded with memes describing my own self-prescribed hysteria, along with claims of the films being a temporary cure to depression.
Even Mark Kermode, an established 55-year-old film critic, found himself completely helpless to the allure of the ridiculous film. In a video where he reviews Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018) he says, “It was like my inner fluffy self went, ‘Alright, well you the critic sit there in the chair and get on with that, I’m gonna have a dance in aisles.”
Now Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is missing an overall-clad Meryl Streep and the cast is 10 years older so there is a layer of sadness present this time around. Fortunately, Lily James as young Donna makes it easier. I couldn’t help but feel delighted with her radiant energy and high-waisted bell bottoms cartwheeling all over Europe while stealing the hearts of goofy-looking men. There’s even a scene where she changes the pronouns of the song "When I Kissed the Teacher" to make it about kissing her female professor so we know that not even women are safe from her hotel-renovating clutches.
Thinking about Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is funny to me because the sequel tries a little harder to be a movie. The pacing is slower, the directing and story are a little crisper, and the central conflict is handled with a much steadier hand. And I sulked about it. I didn’t want to see a movie. I literally wanted ABBA nonsensical happy fun time the sequel. Of course I still had a great time and my mom and I were definitely singing along, so to me it was well worth the price of admission.
What’s even funnier than me pouting about the sequel trying to be more like a movie, is that there are real critics who write real reviews on how both films are a disappointment and not “real cinema.”
It is truly hysterical to me that someone would go into a Mamma Mia! movie and expect something more than a nonsense plot featuring ABBA music. Mamma Mia! doesn’t exactly market themselves as on par with Citizen Kane (1941). Asking for an actual film with substance from movies made to be fun jukebox entertainment is like walking into a fast food restaurant and getting upset when they don’t serve you a gourmet meal.
At the end of the day, the Mamma Mia! films are a phenomenon of pop culture because they aren’t trying to take the movies seriously or sell them as anything more than what they are. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate actual cinema as well. I love when horror films have me clenched up in my chair, goosebumps covering my skin as I barely peek through my fingers. I love when a science fiction movie makes me stay awake all night, pondering the nature of my existence. I love dialogue that punches me right in the gut and cinematography that makes me gasp in awe. Movies have evoked every single emotion I’m capable of experiencing but my absolute favorite thing to feel is joy.
And that is why I am the Mamma Mia! Maniac.