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On Middle-Aged Women and Mama Mia!

August 4, 2008

Everyone I've spoken to regarding Phyllida Lloyd's movie adaptation of the irrepressibly perky ABBA musical, Mama Mia!, absolutely loathes the film. Anthony Lane's scathing review in The New Yorker pretty much sums up the feelings of many other people I've talked with about the movie in recent weeks.

Yet as saccharine, badly filmed and poorly performed as it may be, the movie seems to be garnering wild praise from one particular section of society: women of a certain age. From my mother to the lady in the coffee shop down the road, to my vocal coach, female Baby Boomers are getting hot flushes over the musical.

This isn't altogether surprising. We simply love to see ourselves -- or a flattering projection of ourselves -- reflected in the culture. Infused with catchy songs by the 70s supergroup and featuring a story about forthright, 50-something ladies living the good life, Mama Mia! easily appeals to the fantasies of this particular demographic. It matters not that Pierce Brosnan (in his most career-destroying role to date) can barely hold a note and that Meryl Streep looks like a dyspeptic giraffe in her knee-high silver-glittered platform-heeled boots. What matters is that the middle-aged female characters have all best lines not to mention the most sex in the film. And that Meryl and Pierce end up in the sack.

Should it bother us that cultural products like Mama Mia! have such narrow appeal? Certainly the film is not alone in alienating large numbers of people and pleasing few. Female Baby Boomers certainly are a powerful enough economic and social force to drive the movie's box office. The film made the strongest debut of any musical on screen to date, box office-wise.

Demographics are a curious thing. The rules that govern how they work seem to have very little to do with the quality of the product.


  • "and that Meryl Streep looks like a dyspeptic giraffe in her knee-high silver-glittered platform-heeled boots."

    wow, a truly erudite observation...what are you, 8?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At August 5, 2008 at 6:20 PM  

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