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Wednesday
Jul182018

Mamma Mia! And Me: How the Musical Changed My Life a Decade Ago

by Jorge Molina

Today Mamma Mia! turns a decade old. The film opened exactly ten years ago, on July 18th, 2008. And this weekend, what is perhaps the most unexpected sequel in the franchise factory that Hollywood has become will open.  

I could write a piece about some sort of legacy, or about what a monstrous hit it was when it opened (becoming the highest grossing live action musical ever, and the highest grossing movie in history in the U.K. at the time). I could attempt an oral history on why I firmly believe this was the most fun any group of actors has ever had on set, or an objective reexamination on why this silly and often senseless movie works so effortlessly.

But I want to get a little more personal. Because ten years ago, that movie changed the way I looked at myself and my life...

If you follow me on Twitter (which you frankly should, just saying), there’s no way you will have missed that ever since a sequel was announced last summer, I’ve made Mamma Mia! my brand. I’ve freaked out over every inch of footage, picture from set, rumored song, casting announcement, and plot point. But it’s not just a gimmick that I’ve somehow managed to ride for twelve months. 

I was fifteen when the first Mamma Mia! opened. I first heard about it when a film magazine in Mexico featured it on its annual summer preview issue. It wasn’t a full spread; it was barely a paragraph in a corner. Under the picture of Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan back to back during “S.O.S.”, the phrase “based on the Broadway phenomenon” immediately caught the attention of young closeted me. 

I’ve always liked musicals. The reasons for why are for a completely separate piece, but by the time Mamma Mia! opened, I had already discovered Chicago and Moulin Rouge! in the aisles of my local Blockbuster, and was eager to consume more of the genre. 

The movie opened in Mexico a couple of months after the U.S., so I was just beginning my freshman year of high school in September of 2008. Me and my friends went to the mall on a Friday night because that’s all my suburban town allowed for. And I suggested we watched this movie, claiming I had heard it was good, but didn’t know much else about it.

I was lying.

The movie started, and it was a musical alright. Right from the first scene with Amanda Seyfried singing “I Have a Dream” as she deposits the three letters for her three potential fathers in a mailbox. My friends next to me groaned. I had not mentioned to them that this was a musical.

The movie kept going, and I found myself enjoying it in a way I hadn’t enjoyed anything before then. I was overwhelmed by joy, but a joy that I knew I couldn’t make explicit. A joy that I was ashamed to feel.  The moment the dream sequence in “Money, Money, Money” kicked in, and Meryl, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters were running around in a yacht wrapped in flowy fabrics, something shifted inside me. 

I had never fallen in love with something so quickly and so deeply, and I had never felt so strongly that I shouldn’t have. I spent the rest of the movie suppressing my gasps and tapping feet, because if my friends somehow discovered how much I was enjoying it, I would be exposed. When the movie ended, I rolled my eyes alongside them, and apologized for making them see it. As soon as they left, I went straight to the record store and bought the soundtrack. I listened to it on a loop for no less than a full year. I bought the DVD the day it came out; I still own that copy.

It would take me years to understand what it was that I feared being discovered in that theater. Mamma Mia! was the first movie that showed me that there was a way of liking something that felt different, and that my entertainment taste was somehow deeply linked with a part of my identity that I wasn’t ready to face yet.

Afterwards I kept my love of this movie at arm’s length, crediting it as my biggest guilty pleasure. It wasn’t until the sequel was announced last year, and I got more overwhelmingly excited than I ever expected to be, that I went back and realized (and understood) why my love for it ran so deep. 

I’ve been out of the closet for five years now, and I can now clearly see that the movie was the very first piece of entertainment that detonated my queer radar in a way that could be felt in the moment. I knew from the first scene that I was seeing this in a different way than everyone else in the theater. I felt something as the women danced through the pier in “Dancing Queen,” as Dominic Cooper’s abs shined in the sun, as Christine Baranski asked a boy if his mother knew that he was out. I was full of joy and guilt.

The release of the sequel feels, in a way, like the end of a chapter of my life. Watching that first movie in the theater was the kick start of a slow, sometimes painful process; a period that is now behind me. It’s coming to me now as a touchstone to look back and see how my life has progressed and how much I’ve changed.

So when I walk into Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again this weekend, I will be enjoying it openly. I will be gasping when I feel like it, and sing along to the songs I’ve memorized. I'll tap my feet, and let the joy overwhelm me. Because now I am free to do so. 

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Reader Comments (16)

This is sweet. I support you. I saw the first one and even though I knew it was kind of sloppy, it was also unabashedly joyous and fun to watch because of the songs and actors. I can't believe the sequel is getting such great reviews, but I am not surprised given that the clever Ol Parker (Mr. Thandie Newton) is the director. Life is short - may as well be inspired and entertained. Enjoy.

July 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTom Ford

This was a great piece. I pride myself in films I enjoy and don't like to use the term guilty pleasure because to me that points to others people opinions and if I enjoy a film it's no one else's problem. I still rewatch moments from the film because while it's messy it's still fun. I'm excited to be watching the film this coming week with my good judy and just have fun.

July 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEoin Daly

This is so heartfelt that I feel bad for hating this movie. But good for you!

July 18, 2018 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

This was very sweet. Since I'm so much older than you I thought back on what would have been my Mamma Mia experience. I think it was seeing That's Entertainment in the movie theater when it came out. I think it was the summer I turned 13. I saw it multiple times at the dollar theater. Clearly there was no help for me!

July 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Hollywood

What a lovely post. Took me back to what it was like being a young ABBA fan in Australia in the late 70s and early 80s, when their popularity was at its lowest and I pretended at school not to like them or listen to them.

Even though I have issues with MAMMA MIA the stage show and the movie, and I'm sure I'll have issues with MAMMA MIA 2, that music is in my DNA. The joy of it is undeniable to me and I've already cried listening to one of the songs on the new soundtrack so I can. not. wait. to see the film tomorrow.

July 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSteve G

A lovely post, it's a long life and we all need times of froth and joy. Never feel guilty about that.
As Cicero once said, "it is sweet to be silly".

July 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

i'm trying to think of what terrible movie i loved at fifteen...

at my age i can barely remember when i was fifteen

July 18, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterpar

What a lovely piece

Good for you.

July 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRdf

Thank you for sharing this.

I, too, don't think it is a very good movie, outside of the cinematography and the songs, but it is a fun movie. And I look forward to groaning / delighting in the new one this weekend.

Plus i hope it introduces me to one of their songs like the previously unknown "Our Last Summer", which has become one of my favorites of ABBA.

July 19, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

That last paragraph is glorious. What a lovely piece to read. Life is short and we should all be happy.

Enjoy the sequel!

July 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMikeyC

If I went and somebody sang along in a viewing where it wasn’t specified, I’d ask for a refund.

July 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

I was the same! 17 - not knowing what I was in for and desperately trying to be in the closet - then boom! This movie I was ‘dragged’ to knowing nothing about - brought a piece out of me that has never gone away. Such fun!

July 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMorgan

The luxury of being an American gay boy during the late 80s and early 90s meant being exposed to half naked men in action movies to condition me into manhood. Van Damme remains my favorite for the face and body he provided. Always in his draws. Always doing the splits: filmed from behind. Always dressed in sexy clothing.

July 19, 2018 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

@3rtful - hell yes. bless van damme and his exhibitionism.

The movie was fun, I'll give it that. Now I'm also trying to think if I have a Mamma Mia! movie in my life as well.

July 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

I'm with you, Jorge. So SO much!
And as Meryl stated it a few days ago: "I think we all need MM! even more these days than before."
It is so much. Not a cinematic masterpiece. No, but there are also more than enough. This is mainly a movie that is supposed to make you feel giddy, joyful. Of Course if you don't feel it, then you don't.
But I also really had the Impression that most of the cast simply had the blast of their life, esp. a near 60 years old actress. You can see it, you can FEEL it: she didn't care for Critics. *lol*
That's why I LOVE her in this. Forever. 8)

July 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

Very excellent piece, Jorge.

July 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMatt St. Clair

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