Australian documentary MAMIL is a must-watch documentary for so many reasons. Here are five.
You would have seen them: Slightly tubby, greying men sitting in cafes donning what look like speedos designed to engulf the whole body. They can be more traditionally found in organised files, zooming down the aisles of the road, and hey, you may be even be one – we don’t discriminate.
Yes, I’m talking about MAMILs, the term coined to describe the phenomenon of Middle Aged Men In Lycra. MAMIL. Simple.
This form of cycling movement, despite appearing ubiquitous today, is actually relatively new. But what draws its loyal servants to the MAMIL lifestyle? Is it purely born from a desire to get (or remain) fit?
This is the question at the heart of cycling documentary MAMIL. And the answers are funny, melancholic, and completely unbelievable.
As a result, MAMIL makes for gripping viewing. Oh, and it’s also your lucky day because it’s in cinemas as long as you want it to be. Demand Film functions as on-demand cinema, and you can just let them know when you’d like to hold a screening.
Here’s what makes MAMIL such a great documentary.
1 – Great characters
Directors Eleanor Sharpe and Nickolas Bird reel us into the whacky and wonderful world of cycling through a variety of MAMILs. While the film is Australian made and funded, it is truly international, telling the stories of MAMILs primarily from around England, America, and Oz.
Each character is vivid and dense. They draw you in in their own unique way. We meet a Barrister from Australia, who takes steroid shots to the knee to ignore his pains and cycle the most famous, and one of the toughest bike routes in the world, Spain’s Col du Tourmalet. There is a gay cyclist from New York, who starts his own cycling group for other middle-aged gay people. We also meet one English father who incessantly blogs and vlogs his daily rides… despite not really having an audience.
And the characters are funny. Sure, you get the laddie banter that’s inevitable when a bunch of dudes get together to flex their natural competitiveness. But equally you get the laddie awkwardness and shyness stemming from the awareness of their addiction to a testosterone fuelled hobby that lands them in all-revealing lycra. It makes for quite the sight.
2 – Stunning cinematography
In many ways, the filmmakers were gifted the perfect opportunity for a visual spectacle. A film that focuses on individuals who deliberately choose to ride increasingly-challenging journeys means that spectacular landscapes are part of the package.
One example is the aforementioned Australian judge, Doug, whose trip to Spain sees him riding through daunting yet other-worldly mountain ranges. More than this, one shot that particular stood out was when, after his cycle up the mountain, Doug jumps into the pool… still in his lycra.
Although the cinematography isn’t the centre-piece of the documentary by any means, it certainly adds to its watchability.
3 – True insight into a huge but unspoken sub-group
MAMILs are everywhere. But I don’t think I truly understood just how endemic this phenomenon is. The film goes to great effort to reinforce just how far the cycling-bug has spread. We see Latin-specific cycling groups. Religious cycling groups – led by a Pastor. The aforementioned gay cycling group in New York.
Within those groups, each character’s story reveals insight as to why exactly cycling is so popular. More on that later. Patience my friends.
Another thing that stood out for a non-MAMIL like myself was just how much abuse riders received on the roads. You couldn’t help but feel sorry for the innocent cyclists who just want to enjoy their rides. The film really works to humanise its protagonists and the masses they represent.
4 – Touching moments
Yes, I cried. MAMIL is flowered with inspiring anecdotes about what cycling has given its cyclists. There is one Perth man who accomplished a 200km ‘Ride for Cancer’ after his best-friend was diagnosed with throat cancer. After the event, his best-friend signed himself up for the next year’s race, not knowing if he would be alive to ride it. Miraculously, he was, and now the team is over 10-strong and have amassed over $200,000 for charity.
There is the story of a man who, on the cusps of committing suicide, remembered he had a race approaching – a race he was looking forward to. Cycling remains the spark that keeps him moving forward. As an academic researching MAMILs states, it is becoming clearer that cycling is good for both physical and mental health.
There are also the outright sad moments: Life-threatening injuries (which I learned are far too common in the sport); wives who feel like they are losing their husbands to bikes – “I wonder how many divorces are out there because of cycles.
5 – Cycling is really just a microcosm of a larger, unavoidable issue: Growing old.
Ultimately, it’s melancholy that lies at the heart of MAMIL. Sure, there are so many inspiring moments, as I just elaborated on. But the pain, the sacrifices these mostly men go through, it’s very reminiscent of addiction. One man literally breaks his back cycling, and despite his wife openly saying she’d rather he stopped forever, he seems physically unable to do so. He will not and cannot stop riding.
And it’s a common theme throughout. One man says the most important things in his life are “his health and his family. And cycling at a close third… very close third.” Another is thrilled when his wife buys bedsheets with bikes on them; now he can “sleep amongst the bikes”.
For the MAMILs, this is a way of being a man, when masculinity seems lost in tiring limbs and growing rolls of fat. And that struggle with ageing is something most humans will go through. The film just begs the question, if you weigh up the pros and cons, is the life of a MAMIL a healthy way to conquer those fears?
In cinemas now, Canada, US, UK, Australia, coming soon to Ireland, New Zealand and Germany.
And if you don’t see a cinema near you having a screening you can request one!
This article was written as a content partnership with Demand Film.