"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Why I Want to See Mamma Mia!

And also why I still have a total girlcrush on Kate Harding:

So okay, let’s talk about Pierce Brosnan — and Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard. It is, frankly, weird to see these three men in supporting roles, while the women completely and utterly take center stage. Though they’re playing Streep’s old boyfriends, these are categorically girlfriend roles; the guys exist mainly to look nice, drive the plot forward as necessary, and sometimes take their shirts off. How fucking rare is that? Although I was thoroughly sick of the phrase “male gaze” by the end of just one feminist film theory class, I must say, I can’t think of another movie I’ve seen that so unabashedly employs the female gaze. Not just because there’s lots of eye candy for straight chicks, but because even male viewers are truly expected to identify with the female characters and see everything through a woman’s eyes. Meaning both that there’s no male hero and that in a movie set on a Greek island, there are no lingering shots of hot young girls in bikinis. Amanda Seyfried is plenty gorgeous in a fairly demure one-piece, but the point is not to be turned on by her, even if you are. Granted, most of the time she’s in a bathing suit, she’s hanging out with men who are old enough to be (and indeed might be) her father, but I can’t help suspecting a male director would have glossed over that pesky little fact and put her in a more revealing suit anyway — ’cause, you know, why waste that body? Meanwhile, when Baranski rocks a somewhat less demure, blazing red one-piece, we are supposed to think she’s hot — but in a way that encourages the viewer to think, “Hey, maybe I’m that hot, too!” not “Yeah, I’d hit that.”

For my money, the female gaze is exactly what throws so many male reviewers about Mamma Mia! The movie, as Ebert noted, wasn’t made for them. It’s not just that the poor widdle straight men are forced to watch a bunch of chicks doing chick stuff to an ABBA soundtrack, it’s that they’re supposed to identify with chicks doing chick stuff. They’re supposed to share in the joy when they hear old girlfriends squealing together, imagine themselves on stage rocking “Super Trouper” in sparkly polyester, and fantasize about what they might do with a shirtless Pierce Brosnan. They’re supposed to put themselves in the metallic boots — and behind the eyes — of a bunch of women, taking the same sort of gender-swapping imaginative leap women are expected to make, oh, only about EVERY GODDAMNED TIME WE GO TO THE MOVIES. Seriously, other movies I have seen this summer: Indiana Jones, Iron Man, Wanted, The Dark Knight. If I tried to identify with the female characters instead of the male heroes in those movies, I’d have been bored right out of my fucking skull. Likewise, the man who watches Mamma Mia! and attempts to envision Pierce Brosnan as someone he wants to be, not someone he wants to bang, is pretty much screwed (so to speak). To enjoy it, you’ve got to want to be Meryl Streep. And men are really not used to being put in that position at the movies because, you know, THEY NEVER ARE.

Go read the whole thing.


Jeff Fecke said...

I actually don't want to see Mama Mia -- not that into ABBA music, and you need to be -- but really, so what? I don't want to see Hancock either. Not every movie is going to appeal to everybody, and that's okay. Unfortunately, Hollywood keeps trying to make movies that appeal to everybody, and by "everybody," they mean "14-year-old boys."

I'm hoping that between Mama Mia and Sex and the City, Hollywood has gotten the message that hey, if you make movies aimed at women, lo and behold, women will show up to them! Maybe, just maybe, not every movie needs to have a topless shot and something blowing up.

(And of course, after a few years of this, we'll find out that, lo and behold, some men like the women's movies just fine -- just like some women like action movies just fine.)

Tracey said...

Thanks for commenting, Jeff! I'm a fan of your stuff from Shakesville/Moderate Left. Anyway, yeah. Even if this movie doesn't have mass appeal based on its musical-ness and its ABBA-osity, its release in the same summer as Sex and the City is a good sign. There's another movie coming out soon called The Women with a HUGE female cast that may add to the trend.

Anonymous said...

I want to see it just because it's so embarrassing that Meryl Streep's in it. And since I starred in a movie with her, I need to make sure that she's only choosing roles that reflect well on me.

Hey, speaking of all this, what did people have to say about that play, "Top Girls"?

Tracey said...

Is it embarrassing? Or is it awesome?

I had to Google "Top Girls" to even know what you were talking about. If anyone's had anything to say about it, I haven't heard it.