I really like the film Mamma Mia. There, I’ve said it. I watched it on telly again last night and was reminded of this. I can already see large numbers of you shaking your heads ruefully at my lack of taste.
As someone with a reasonably healthy cultural background, I have kept this embarrassing admission under wraps until now, fully aware that ‘proper’ films are classics, such as Citizen Kane, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather(s), art house films, thrillers, John Wayne Westerns etc.
I do enjoy many of the above. I have a predilection for Richard Linklater, Coen Brothers’ films and Woody Allens of yore. I also like the highest grossing UK film (until Avatar) of all time. I can understand if it’s not your thing. Yes, it is corny and sentimental; the dialogue can be trite, Brosnan’s singing is not especially pleasant; Meryl Streep, though wonderful, is about ten years too old for the part. And we could do with some more humour – Walters and Baranski as the comedy sidekicks are great, but there’s not enough of them.
The film acquired its success because of the droves of women who flocked to see it (with a few reluctant males in tow). The reason they went is not because they are intellectually inferior to men, but because very few mainstream films place women at the emotional heart of a film. At best there’ll be an equal division of male and female, but it’s usually the token wife/girlfriend/mother role – a lone she-wolf in a line-up of males. Or if they do form the heart of a film, they are often alarmingly neurotic, as in the case of Black Swan.
Women don’t especially want neurotic melodrama. My goodness, we have enough of that when we break a nail! Or stand on the scales! Or have PMT!! Mamma Mia is certainly not high art, but it is enjoyable. Yes, we’re swept away by the escapism of gorgeous people running round a Greek island to a fabulous soundtrack, but we’re also drawn to the warmth, honesty and real friendships on screen. To see the female characters taking action and the responsibility for their actions, to be at the centre, not an appendage. We also don’t take kindly to films that depict this being dismissed by sneering critics as a ‘chick flick’.
There isn’t, as far as I’m aware, an equivalent male term to ‘chick flick’. A typically male film, I would argue, is Reservoir Dogs. It’s superbly made and I greatly enjoy the bitching about names in the opening scene, but a lot of the film is taken up with shouting and pointing their guns at each other. A ‘boy toy’ film. It is not described as that. It is just a film. A ‘classic’ film. And yet women are supposed to get themselves in a lather of excitement over something that contains not a single female character, except for a ‘Shocked Woman’ and a ‘Shot Woman.’ Nice.
Last year brought Bridesmaids, which did well commercially and critically. This pleases me greatly and leads me to hope for more of the same. We do make up half the human race, after all. Obviously, the fact that’s it (cringeworthy) funny helped. It also brought ‘The Kids are Alright.’ In both these the women were allowed to make themselves look ridiculous and unattractive, to show that their relationships and lives are complex and fragile. And just as worthy of celluloid examination.