We Really Like Her! is a Toronto-based monthly screening series at the Revue Cinema. It is co-programmed and hosted by Emily Gagne and Danita Steinberg and aims to celebrate and highlight women in film. Our column, coinciding with our monthly screening, will give That Shelf readers a little insight into the thought process behind our film choices — from their cultural significance to why we love them.
This month, we are bringing Phyllida Lloyd’s Mamma Mia! (2008) back to the big screen.
Musical lovers are often woefully starved at the box office. In the fifteen years (!!!) since Mamma Mia’s release, there have only been about a dozen live-action, big-budget musicals and a lot of them are pretty bad (do not talk to me about Nine or Mary Poppins Returns). This is part of the reason I love revisiting Mamma Mia! at least once a year, especially in March when grey slush is everywhere you look here in Toronto. After last year’s screening at the Revue Cinema was such a hit, Emily and I decided it would be an annual tradition.
In 2008, it was the height of the Meryl-aissance. She’s always been one of our most talented and beloved actors, but between 2006 and 2011, she made 13 films. All of a sudden, a woman in her late 50s and early 60s was one of our biggest box office draws. That had literally never happened before and I was loving every second of it. At the time, Mamma Mia! was the highest grossing film directed by a woman, as well as starring a woman over 50.
On a personal note, I’ve been a huge Meryl Streep fan for most of my life, spending my high school years devouring her 50+ movie filmography. Then, several years ago, she became even more dear to me when Emily and I, very new in our friendship, started our first podcast, What About Meryl?. Over the course of a year, we watched her films and talked about them every week, learning a lot about each other in the process. So, programming and watching any Meryl Streep movie together will forever be special.
Above all else, though, I just genuinely love this dang movie. It is joy personified and you can tell the entire cast is having the time of their lives. The chemistry between Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski, and Julie Walters is off the charts, Amanda Seyfried is charming as hell, and Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgård are delightfully goofy, happy to take the backseat and let all the women shine.
While it may get shrugged off by some cynical grumps, I will be celebrating Mamma Mia! until the end of my days. Director Phylida Lloyd made a beautiful, colourful, feel-good movie that demands to be seen with an ABBA-loving crowd. Our screenings are a safe space for dancing and singing and crying, so the vibes will be immaculate.
Here we go again!
When we first screened Mamma Mia! at the Revue Cinema last March, the audience erupted into applause as soon as “Dancing Queen” finished. At first I thought it was because that song is an eternal banger, the ABBA track that everyone and their grandma can recite from memory. But on further reflection I realized that this was likely a moment of catharsis for our overtly femme audience. After all, it is a scene rarely seen on the big screen: a horde of women of all different generations shirking their responsibilities to shake it by the sea, each and every one of them feeling the beat from the tambourine (oh yeah!) in their own special way.
While I love Mamma Mia! for the many reasons Danita states above, one of the things that keeps me (and I’m sure many others) coming back to this endlessly charming film is the fact that it unabashedly celebrates women’s agency, especially in terms of sexual expression.
Sure, it helps that someone like Meryl Streep gets more and more stunning as she ages. But her character (single mom and small business owner Donna Sheridan) isn’t the only one who gets to, well, get it in Mamma Mia!. From the scenes of Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie reading salacious stories straight out of her mom’s diary to Christine Baranski’s Tanya seducing young men on the beach, this movie isn’t afraid to suggest that women can and should do whatever they want, with whomever they want, at any and all ages.
A movie made by a woman with women in mind, it’s no wonder Mamma Mia! was such a success upon release and remains so beloved. Like the popular stage musical that came before it, it aimed to represent the underrepresented way before larger calls to action to do so, and it did it all with such passion and so little pretension. To paraphrase the eternally catchy title track, how could we resist programming it?
Mamma Mia! screens at Toronto’s Revue Cinema on March 23 at 6:45 pm.
Follow We Really Like Her! on Twitter and stay tuned for a look at their April screening pick!