Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth
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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

Portrayal Of Sexuality In Mamma Mia!: Insulting Or Inspiring?

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Mamma Mia!, the rollicking Abba-fest that raked in $28 million at the box office this past weekend has been hailed by some as a feminist film because the writer, director and leads are all women over 40. In early July, MM co-producer Judy Craymer told the New York Times that the movie is, "about real women." Well, I saw Mamma Mia! on Friday night, and though it's admirable that the trio of 50 to 60-something women (Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters) are shown as sexual, something irked me about the portrayal of their sexuality — the movie made them into caricatures. Perhaps criticizing an ABBA musical for painting in broad strokes is like negging a rave for playing seizure-inducing techno, but it bugged me that Streep, Baranski and Walters were all given choreography that involved grabbing their breasts and crotches repeatedly. It seemed to be mocking their lustiness rather than celebrating it.

Dodai also saw the film, and while she could see where I was coming from, she thought "in someways it was like a relief to see them a) talk about sex and b) talk about enjoying it," even if their dance moves and song choices were borderline vulgar. Even though the movie employed the randy old crone stereotype (specifically Julie Walters' character, who is sort of asexual and chases men who don't want her), Dodai pointed out, "how many movies are there where randy old dudes are looking up girls skirts or whatever?"

I'm not the only one who noted the possibly-insulting portrayal of grown-up sexuality. Salon's Stephanie Zacharek said in her review of Mamma Mia!:

Streep seems hellbent on spreading the gospel of how sexy, randy, raunchy, lively and decidedly not boring women past 50 can be — what she's doing is more advertising than performing. She can belt; she just forgets to breathe. Baranski, also a gifted performer, gets the unpleasant role of the thin, rich socialite who bores through stacks of husbands like a hungry moth munching her way through layers of sweaters. Baranski might have done something even with this cardboard role, but her performance is just shrill and crinkly…And I thought Walters, in her baggy pants outfits and sexless spectacles, was supposed to be the surprise lesbian of the group — I guess that's what we're supposed to think. But I began wondering why Johnson even bothered giving this character a name. Why not just call her "Free Spirit"? I suppose that sounds too much like a maxi pad.


On the other hand, though it won't be winning Oscars any time soon, the move was so much fun to watch, and part of the joy of musicals is that they're loud, flashy and sort of tasteless. Are Zacharek and I sucking all the fun out of it?

Mamma Mia — Feminist Creative Power on Film [Women And Hollywood]

The ‘Mamma Mia!' Factor, Times Three [NY Times]

Mamma Mia! [Salon]