Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is probably not going to win any awards, but it will win your heart.
The movie — a sequel-prequel hybrid to the 2008 film based on the Broadway musical — premiered this weekend to (mostly) rave reviews. And I’m here to tell you: it is 100% worth seeing, because it’s a genuinely meaningful ode to moms.
A quick refresher on the first film: Sophie (played by Amanda Seyfried) is getting married to Sky (Dominic Cooper), and wants her dad to be at her wedding. Reading Donna’s diary (her mom, played by MERYL FREAKIN’ STREEP), she invites her three possible dads (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård) to Kalokairi, the made-up Greek island where she and her mom live. It’s ridiculous and fun and you can’t think too hard about the plot.
(And no, there is nothing Jewish about either Mamma Mia movie. As actress Rachel Bloom points out, the Jewish Mamma Mia would say: “All three of you are my dads! But I’m still gonna do a paternity test so I learn my full family health history and anticipate any potential genetic disorders.”)
So just what makes Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again so special? Because everything is awful right now. And sometimes, just sometimes, you need to watch beautiful people singing ABBA hits and falling in love on a fake Greek island. And sometimes you need to cry about your mom.
(Warning: Mild spoilers ahead.)
The plot of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is very thin: The basics are that Donna has died and Sophie is re-opening the hotel her mom founded. She finds out she’s pregnant, and feels very close to her mom, who was also pregnant opening the hotel many, many moons ago. Inexplicably, Cher is also there, and so is Andy Garcia as a character named Fernando, just so Cher can sing “Fernando.” It’s ridiculous and perfect.
Throughout this, there are flashbacks to young Donna (a magnificently cast Lily James) traveling to Greece and sleeping with three different men. (You know, to set up the plot of the first film: Sophie not knowing who her dad is.)
Yet, never are Donna’s sexual adventures treated with judgement or shame. As one mom tweeted, Mamma Mia “is a joyous celebration of a woman who has unprotected sex with three men and then raises a daughter by herself and none of this is portrayed in any other light than glitter!”
As actress James herself explained, “There aren’t many characters that I’ve played that have felt as free as Donna. Even though [Mamma Mia! is] set in the ’70s, it feels so relevant and modern now, in the fact that she’s so free sexually and that’s celebrated. These guys that she goes off with… I always thought it was so important that that we never apologized for that.” Amen!
It’s all superfun, until penultimate scene — that’s when the tears flowed freely.
(Serious spoilers ahead. Turn back now!)
Sophie has given birth, and is walking up to the church with her newborn. Her friends and family enter before her, and she tells Cher (who plays her grandma, technically, but I can’t think of her as anything but Cher) something along the lines of, “I just really wish mom were here.” Then, the film flashes back to young Donna (James) carrying her baby into the same church, and she starts singing “My Love, My Life,” “I’ve never felt this strong, I’m invincible, how could this go wrong?”
And then young Donna turns into older Donna a.k.a. MERYL STREEP, watching over her daughter carry her own baby, and Meryl starts singing, “Like an image passing by / My love, my life / In the mirror of your eyes / My love, my life” and then Amanda joins in, and OMG, there wasn’t a single dry eye in the theater.
That song — that scene between mother and daughter — is the emotional thesis of the film: The bond between moms and daughters (and sons, for that matter) is unbreakable. Your mom will always be there, even when she’s not physically there.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is bonkers in many ways — I mean, Cher, 72, plays the mom of Meryl Streep, 69. But the film is an emotional tribute to the strength of moms; to single moms raising their daughters with no support, and to moms having babies without their own mom around.
Sometimes, you just need your mom. Mamma Mia gets that.
Header Image by Jonathan Prime (accessed via Instagram @jonathanstills).