Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again: The Magic Lives On

Pop Culture

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again: The Magic Lives On

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Ten years ago, Mamma Mia! introduced us to Donna (Meryl Streep), the free-spirited, middle-aged American woman who stayed on the Greek island of Kalokairi and whose daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) was about to get married. As we now know, Sophie was determined to find out about her father, so she tracks down and invites the three men – Sam Carmichael (Pierce Brosnan), Harry Bright (Colin Firth), and Bill Anderson (Stellan Skarsgard) – who could be her real dad for the celebration. The film, however left us with a sweet twist: All three decide not to prove paternity so they can be Sophie’s collective dads.

With the enigma over the dads unsolved but tied up neatly, the sequel, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again begins a year after Donna’s death. An anxious Sophie, who is now 25, prepares for the grand re-opening of her Hotel Belladonna, a final fulfillment of her mother’s dream. She’s aided by Sam, who dances with all the fervour of a drunk uncle. Soon enough, her other two fathers show up, as do Donna’s two best friends and her partner Sky.

Much of the film shifts back and forth between flashbacks that bring the past to life: The year is 1979, and Lily James plays the young Donna with aplomb (not that anyone can match Streep). Her effortless charm and magnetic presence make her the perfect embodiment of late 70s bohemian culture, and the ideal foil to modern-day Sophie.

It’s a clever narrative device, considering that young Donna is around the same age as present-day Sophie. Having graduated from Oxford without any idea of what she wants to do (but after a deliciously absurd and queer-friendly rendition of “When I Kissed the Teacher”), Donna decides to take an entirely impractical European holiday. Unfettered by a boyfriend, a job, a business, or family, Donna is a stark contrast to Sophie, who is weighed down by responsibilities.

The magic of ABBA comes to life with the glowing escapism of 1979, as a spontaneous Donna bumps into younger versions of Sam, Harry, and Bill on her way. Her lightest touch sends people around her spinning, but she skirts the pitfalls of becoming a grating Mary Sue thanks to her natural vulnerability. Donna is the quintessential manic-pixie dream girl – if the manic-pixie dream girl ever had her own story.

But it’s also these flashbacks that are the quiet strength of Here We Go Again. Like biting into a toffee apple, the film’s glossy exterior conceals a wholesome, imperfect heart. For all her carefree la vie bohème, Donna ends up alone, as a terrifyingly young and single mother.

Interestingly, Here We Go Again staunchly refuses to victimise Donna. She has her heart broken, but never succumbs to self-pity, facing her fate with wholehearted commitment. She discovers that she’s pregnant while squatting in a dilapidated farmhouse, in a strange country. Even more poignant, however, is how Donna soldiers on for Sophie.  

Sophie, the recipient of Donna’s hard-won legacy, doesn’t inherit her mother’s indomitable willingness to meet life as it comes. She has a loving partner but worries about their long-distance relationship; she’s starting a hotel in the same farmhouse where she was born, but worries about the opening party; she’s surrounded by people who love her and loved her mother, but worries about living up to their expectations. Sophie, in short, is a millennial – unable to find the freewheeling ’70s spirit within her.

But it’s also these flashbacks that are the quiet strength of Here We Go Again. Like biting into a toffee apple, the film’s glossy exterior conceals a wholesome, imperfect heart.

Compared with Sophie, Donna harks back to a time that seems simpler on the face of it: A time when a girl could impulsively follow her heart around Europe, finding food and friends along the way, without our modern-day concerns of money, borders, and security. But if anything, Donna’s journey shows us that despite our nostalgia for a bygone era, she faced the same tough choices as her daughter, and faced them on her own. Sophie only truly honours her mother’s memory when she realises what matters in life is not what happens in life, but what she decides is important to her.

It’s a valuable message for a chaotic era, saturated as we are with the dread of an uncertain future. Besides being an old-fashioned film, designed purely for the purposes of glorious, full-throated entertainment, Here We Go Again provides a refreshing perspective on life – one that is a soothing balm for our world of stressed-out Sophies.