Not quite forty-eight hours and I am still recovering from the betrayal and sucker punch delivered by Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again.
Spoiler Alert: If you don’t want to know the plot, quit reading now.
Before I begin what I hope will be a cathartic rant, allow me to explain why this movie meant so much to me, and why literally killing the story-line is so personally disheartening.
Mamma Mia was first released in 2008. It was the year my mother got very sick, and it was the last movie she ever saw. I was hovering around my 50th birthday. My girls were around 10 and 14. I went to the movie, and during the first few scenes was looking at my watch to see when it would be over. (Don’t know why, but I found the Money, Money, Money song annoying.) I think it was the Honey, Honey number that grabbed me by the heart and drew me in.
I was instantly transported back to my own magical days of wonder. Before I knew it I was engulfed in the visual beauty of Greece, the allure and energy of youth, the palpable ecstasy of decades-long friendship. And, honest to Pete, with every scene the delightful narrative just got stronger and brighter and the denouement left me giddy with joy and pleasure.
I spent money and watched that movie SEVEN TIMES at the theater. Never before or since have I even watched one a second time. I even went alone on several of those occasions.
And then I shared it with my girls. We bought the DVD, viewed it over and over, sang with it in the car…it is not hyperbolic to say that Mamma Mia was an regular, notable influence on our family during the next ten years.
So, you can imagine our delight when the sequel was approaching. So much to look forward to! Both my girls are in another state now, and we dearly wanted to be together for opening night. Alas, we missed it by one day. I saw it a few hours before their allotted time.
I viewed it with a dear friend from high school. We arrived more than an hour early, sat through a half hour of trailers, and finally, finally! The opening shot.
And I knew it instantly…the magic was gone. The opening shot was quiet, dark and lacked energy. Expressions were dower. And then, God help me, Sophie hung up a picture of Dead Donna, and said something about “This is what mom would have wanted.”
Are you kidding me? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
They effing killed Donna???
So I have read that “Meryl Streep doesn’t do sequels.” Well, good for her. Knowing that, the writers couldn’t have had her go to Europe to see a friend? Join the Peace Corp? DID THEY HAVE TO KILL HER? And yet she shows up at the end as a damn ghost, so she did in fact do a sequel?
Well, I have not been that sucker punched since they threw Anne Hathaway under the truck in One Day. (Or maybe when they hoed the otter in half at the end of the movie, Ring of Bright Water.)
And then the grief started. Sam grieving. They had four, maybe five years of happiness before her death. Sophie grieving. Then Rosie and Tanya arrive crying. Good grief, who writes this crap?
How in the hell are you supposed to start singing and dancing and telling vagina jokes WHEN THE MAIN CHARACTER/MOTHER/WIFE/FRIEND is DEAD?
Call me a wuss but I cried for two hours. And so did a lot of other fans. And then I got really pissed.
The trailers were deceptive. Meryl Streep’s interview was deceptive. All Judy Craymer appeared to care about was shoving her sequel out of the gate.
Meryl Streep in her own words:
“Indescribable joy…pure fun…?” In what universe is a dead mother/wife/friend “joy and fun?: And for the record, I had heard rumors about Dead Donna. And this above interview had me believe my fears were unfounded. Very deceptive. Not cool, Meryl. Not cool.
However, anger, betrayal and grief aside, let’s have a look at the actual quality of the sequel.
This isn’t just the bitter talking. The musical numbers were an insulting rehash of the ones that were so strong, energetic and powerful. The jokes were equally as weak. Rosie wobbling around like an imbecile made me want to slap her down in the chair she kept missing. Sky and Sophie, who in the first movie exuded unbounded energy and sexuality, looked like they’d been married fifteen years and wanted a divorce. And, of course, Harry was still spontaneous.
There were a thousand ways this narrative could have kept the magic alive without turning it into a tragedy. With the addition of Cher, I personally was expecting a healing reconciliation between Donna and her mother. I was expecting to see the rise of the Dynamos and perhaps a bit of Sophie’s childhood.
I have spent the last two days discussing this with many fans on social media. Many of them loved this new movie, and that is their prerogative. But many also feel as I do, that it was a blind-siding script and an insult to those expecting an actual “reunion.”
I hope this crappy bait-and-switch will never quell the wonder, beauty and near divination of the first Mamma Mia. Shame on the people who killed this narrative. You didn’t have to.
Here is a fraction of what made Mamma Mia so amazingly special and the only song I cried at during the first movie. Tears of love at the bitter-sweetness of mother and daughter-hood, not in any way tears of loss and grief:
In family parlance, there are those who say it takes a village to raise a child. I wholeheartedly concur. Through the wonders of social media, I have recently been in contact with a family who, through their shear benevolence, helped shape me into the person I became, and the parent I continue to be. It is my purpose here to at last say “Thank you. You have no idea how important you were.”
I was parented by a fabulous, devoted, sacrificing, smart, and driven single, school-teaching mom. She was relentless in her devotion to my sister and me. And early in the process her sister came along and we added the equally awesome Aunt Marcella to our nuclear mix.
But I must acknowledge some people who played immeasurable roles in who I turned out to be. And that would have to start with the Cullimores.
Arriving from deep Appalachia to Pasadena, Texas in 1966, nothing could have prepared me for the culture shock. New climate, new people, new schools, new everything. But nary a friend. Until a little girl in the second or third grade reached out to me, and my life was blessed with De’ann Cullimore. But with De’Ann I got so much more than a friend. Because she shared her wondrous family with me.
And sharing is the word for the Cullimore family. They scooped me up and took me places I literally didn’t know existed. They took me berry picking. And then let me help them eat the cobbler Mrs. Cullimore prepared. So many Firsts with this family. They took me to see fireworks at Pasadena Plaza. We sat on the back of a giant car and I experienced the awestruck power of a million chips of color and light. They invited me to sleepovers and family dinners served with warmth and cheerful banter.
And Mr. Cullimore taught me to fly a kite! Oh, how I will never forget the first feel of a kite pulling strongly at my fingers. And it wasn’t just the flying part. Mr. Cullimore taught me everything. How to construct the kite. How to put on a proper, functioning kite tail. How to let your string out at just the right time. How to bring one back, and even what to do when a kite got treed.
And, oh! The swimming! Mr. Cullimore was a chiropractic student and their nearby school had…count them…THREE swimming pools their students and families could use! Because I was clearly the luckiest kid in the world, the Cullimores took me swimming many times. And again, Mr. Cullimore taught me so many things. I was savagely afraid of opening my eyes under water. He was so patient, yet so convincing in his argument as to why I should face the fear and open my eyes. And I did! And the bubbles were beautiful! And he was right again!
But even more than the experiences they allowed me to join them in, the Cullimores taught me what a functioning mom/dad/kids dynamic looked like. When I would ask De’Ann if she could do thus and so, she would say, “Well, I must ask my dad.” And Dad would respond, “Well, it’s okay with me, but you must ask your mother.” Wow. What a concept to little lost me. Two parents. Collaborating. Like friends.
Needless to say, I owe much of my own functioning family dynamics to the shared teaching and behavior modeled for me by this family. Our kids are grown and off to college now, but through the years I never forgot how to strive to behave like a family someone would want to be a part of. There have been many kids who have wandered through our doors. And those doors were worth wandering through in large part because of the Cullimores.
Share your family love. Be a part of the village. And maybe you will be the Cullimores to somebody’s kids someday.
Inspired by Anne Bradstreet’s poem In Reference to Her Children, 1659
I had four bobcats in my lair,
Two were toms and two were fair.
Off they’ve ventured far and near,
Seems unreal with not one here.
Three from litter, one was claimed,
Miss them all with pain the same.
Most solitary, each of them,
Just one mate in just one den.
Claimed tom now in desert deep,
Pray the Lord his soul to keep,
Safe as he hunts with those quite brave,
Wish he were now here in my cave.
Eldest tom is firm and lean,
Light of foot and eyes quite keen.
His den is close which brings delight,
Can take him food on a moonlit night.
Eldest female traverses far,
Across the spans to another star.
Her coat is red and of spotted hue,
She’s focused, sleek and agile, too.
Baby kit strong as the rest,
Playful, thoughtful, full of zest.
Bold and tender, small and swift,
She will make my spirits lift.
That’s my four to Anne’s full eight,
Birds and bobcats were our fate.
So universal a mother’s fears,
Perils change not throughout the years.
When they were wee I panicked all,
Certain each would trip and fall,
Into trouble of unending kinds,
How do mothers not lose their minds?
Oh, how dear when I stroked their fur,
Kneaded, snuggled and heard them purr.
Nestled snug in our den so tight,
Safe from dangers about the night.
But fate decrees they grow and flee,
Far from here and away from me.
Now trust is what I must embrace,
Believing full in faith and grace,
That they’ll live their lives with full aplomb,
As they make themselves a snuggled home.
At first I wandered lost in thought,
Paralyzed by the change this wrought.
My empty lair so stark and still,
I longed once more for it to fill,
With playful noises amidst the den,
How could I now live without them?
When hunting for a meal to share,
A rabbit brought into the lair,
But kits to eat were now nowhere.
Within me cries “How is this fair?”
Can a bobcat cry like a human lost?
Her entire purpose now since been tossed?
But, oh, how now this angst must end,
Replaced with thanks that kits now spend,
Their days in places they choose to be,
Coats shining strong and velvety.
They’ll bring rabbits to their own one day,
Groom them well, and hug and say,
“What utmost joy were my bobcats dear,
Who now are gone far away from here.”
I must thank you, Anne, for your theme so real,
For collective truth and broad appeal,
To mothers all in whatever form,
Who know the love of those we bore.
Dorothy Drusilla Hagan
February 11, 2017
And now follows, a brief commentary:
A Modern Comparison
to Anne Bradstreet’s poem In Reference to Her Children
Written 358 years ago, Anne Bradstreet’s In Reference to Her Children is a tribute to her poetic prowess, and a testimony to the many universal themes of motherhood. Composed in forty-eight iambic tetrameter couplets, the poem is ninety-six lines in length. It is composed in roughly three parts: a description of her children, her fears as she brings them up, and her feelings as life slows down when this task is nearly done. Try as I might I could not exactly repeat her eight-syllable lines; for the most part seven syllables seem to come more naturally to me, and I feel perhaps that’s what I am meant to contribute.
Having had the privilege to teach Anne Bradstreet to my high school students, I was overjoyed to find this poem outside of class in another text. It has inspired me to try to imitate her theme, meter and rhyme scheme. The emotional trappings of motherhood are much the same over the centuries. Truly, I was struck by just how much her feelings were my feelings. Mrs. Bradstreet used the metaphor of birds in her nest; I have chosen bobcats in my lair.
Thank you with every shred of my being, Anne, for sharing your poem with me and inspiring me thus. One of your daughters shared my name, and I hope within this namesake I may reach across the ages, and offer blessings, from my family to yours.