When my friend asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday later this month, I told her all I really wanted was go to brunch and see Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again—for the third time since it came out last week.
Why the sudden, overwhelming interest in sitting in a movie theater and watching a bunch of actors sing ABBA songs? Is it the gorgeous Grecian landscapes? The spunky choreography? The presence of icons like Christine Baranski, Meryl Streep, and Cher?
All of those things have contributed to my latest pop culture obsession (especially Cher), but my love for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again goes beyond my love for catchy pop songs and iconic actresses.
I love this movie because it’s happy. It exists to do nothing other than make you leave the movie theater feeling better than you did when you went in. And in a world where it can be really hard to feel good most days, that’s a downright heroic mission statement.
Don’t get me wrong—there’s a time and place for serious media that makes you think and leaves you emotionally gutted. I loved—and still love—The Americans with all my heart and hope it wins every Emmy possible, and no one ever accused that show of being anywhere in the vicinity of happy. (Although I would also argue—and have actually argued many times—that it’s not as bleak a show as people made it out to be.) But I’ve found myself gravitating more and more in recent months toward media that is meant to spread joy, hope, laughter, and other qualities that are often in short supply.
However, there’s always going to be a condescending attitude toward that kind of media. No critic will ever accuse a movie like Mamma Mia! of being a great cinematic achievement. But I’ve realized that I’d rather watch something that makes me feel great than something that other people tell me is great. Life is short. The world is a mess. Why not celebrate happiness where we find it?
That’s my favorite thing about Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again—it’s a movie about celebrating happiness. It’s a movie about breaking into song or dance both to express joy and to find it in moments that don’t feel joyful. Because somewhere beneath all the platform shoes and sun-drenched dance numbers, there’s a beating heart to the film that’s about choosing to live life to its fullest in the face of pain, heartbreak, and loss. For being an uplifting film, it’s also filled with moments of genuine sadness, honest disappointment, and very real grief. And that’s what elevates it thematically beyond the original, which was a fun romp in its own right but never quite had the emotional depth this film reaches. This time around, there’s a running theme of finding joy amid pain, and it grounds the film in moments of real emotion even as the characters do high kicks and sing about being dancing queens.
It’s not always easy to find reasons to celebrate, to sing, or to dance when you’re feeling like your life—or the world in general—is falling apart. But as this unique little cinematic universe claims, that’s when we need singing, dancing, and laughing the most. Whether it’s Donna finding herself onstage again after Sam leaves by singing and dancing with her Dynamos or Sophie following her mom’s footsteps and performing with Rosie and Tanya to honor Donna, this movie was filled with moments of characters acknowledging pain and then putting one foot in front of the other (sometimes literally) on the path to finding joy again—often alongside the friends and family they love. And that’s what going to see this movie feels like—it’s not pure escapism; it’s a reminder that life is hard, but it’s also worth celebrating. There will be tears (I shed many during the “My Love, My Life” scene.), but there will also be moments of contagious, face-hurting joy. (Who didn’t want to live in that “Super Trouper” credits scene forever?) And when those moments of joy arrive, they deserve to be experienced to their fullest without shame, embarrassment, or guilt.
Happiness is a treasure, and the things that make us smile deserve to be talked about with just as much depth and care as the things that make us cry. For too long, “good” media has often been equated with “serious” media. People typically don’t devote thinkpieces or essays to the things that make them feel good, although in the world we currently inhabit, those should be the things we’re praising the most. If something exists to make people feel good, that doesn’t mean it’s inherently lower in quality than something that exists to reflect the darkness of humanity or ask serious questions about existence. We need the latter, but we also need the former. We need to be able to watch Russian spies grapple with themes of identity, intimacy, and truth, but we also need to be able to watch Colin Firth dance in a spandex suit.
So don’t be ashamed of the media that makes you happy—embrace it. Watch Queer Eye every day, and have a good cry over the positive impact people can have on each other’s lives. Binge the first season of Pose, and celebrate the idea that loving, supportive families can be chosen. Let yourself get swept up in the soft sentimentality of Christopher Robin or the playful fun of Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Media doesn’t always need to have a serious meaning to be of value. Joyful media isn’t pointless; its purpose is to spread happiness and make the world feel a little lighter and brighter. And I can’t think of anything more valuable.
Amazing essay, Katie!
Mamma Mia has been my go-to feel-good movie. I remember catching it on television the evening of the day we buried my grandma and thinking that was the one movie that could comfort me that night. I also agree that we need media like that.
It is too soon to tell which one of the two movies I like the most, but I liked that Mamma Mia 2 was a little more emotional and focused a little more on the relationships between the characters: Sophie and her dads, the genuine friendship between the dads, Donna’s friends (can’t remember their names, shame on me…) and Sophie, Fernando and Sophie, Donna and Sam and, of course, Donna and Sophie. The “My Love, My Life” duet also moved me to tears.
Finally, I too want to live in the Super Trouper credits — partially because I love to sing and few things make me happier than karaoking with friends.
Thank you so much, Sofia! It’s so nice to talk to another Mamma Mia! fangirl. And it’s also so nice to know someone else loves a good karaoke night! Cher has been my go-to karaoke artist for ages, so that last scene was basically a dream come true for me. 😉
I wouldn’t say I’m a Mamma Mia fan girl, but I definitely like both movies.
Warning: Preach Sister! post ahead.
Ok, so I haven’t seen this . . . yet. (Don’t cry, Katie. I’ll get there.) However, I am TOTALLY on board for celebrating art that makes people happy. (I’m sure this surprises absolutely no one.) Happy art is still art. Happy art requires artistry and skill . . . think about how many actors point out that comedy is HARD. While we do want art that makes us think, sometimes we need art that elevates — and joy elevates. Look at when some of the best comedies were made: the ’30’s during the Great Depression. It’s not like happy art and thinking art are mutually exclusive. We NEED to laugh. We NEED the happy. (Snobby critics, go watch Sullivan’s Travels if you need a reminder.) And if it makes you go through life singing and dancing? All the better!
I also love the idea of personal “feel-good” movies – those movies or tv episodes you pull out when you feel bad, down, sick, etc. I’m a TCM-junkie so a lot of mine tend to be classic films. You will pry How to Steal a Million from my cold, dead hands. Yes, I know all the words to all the songs in Tangled. No, Lucy trying to keep up with the chocolates on the conveyor belt will never not be funny.
Stand aside, folks, I’ve got the popcorn. I am SO here for all the laughs and singing and dancing (and thinking).
This is one of the many reasons why we’re a match made in fangirl heaven—I wrote one of my first ever research papers in high school about the importance of comedies and other escapist films during the Depression. Happy media is both good and necessary, and it bothers me when we ignore it’s historical importance in favor of only talking about great tragedies/realistic dramas.
So I will gladly grab a handful of that popcorn and join you in celebrating laughter and singing and dancing (and thinking)! And once you do get to see Mamma Mia 2, feel free to come back and gush about it with me!
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