4:00 pm EDT, July 27, 2018

‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ makes a frivolous premise profound

Ten years after the first Mamma Mia! film, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again proved yet again that movies don’t have to be dark and dreary to be deep.

Explaining the plot of Mamma Mia! to someone who knows nothing about the movie can be difficult: a simple description of what the story is about sounds incredibly frivolous… after all, it’s a romantic comedy about a woman who doesn’t know which of three men is her father. Oh, and it’s a musical. And all the songs are by the Swedish band ABBA. What?!

Related: Every musical number from the Mamma Mia! movie ranked

But even with such a seemingly ridiculous premise, Mamma Mia! is beloved as one of the most emotional and heartwarming movies of recent times. And all the singing and dancing only adds to the impact of the film.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again follows suit in a glorious way, and yet again proves that even a premise that is largely bright colors, spontaneous singing and dancing, and romance, can be one of the most emotive films of the year. How did they do it?

Mild spoilers for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again below.

mamma mia 2 donna

To successfully follow Mamma Mia!, the sequel had to be drastically different from the beloved classic. And the filmmakers’ risky decision to kill off the very heart of the show, Meryl Streep’s Donna Sheridan, paid off gloriously.

A story like this one, centered around the aftermath of the death of one of its central characters, could have easily gone awry, given that it focuses on powerful themes of grief and generational grudges, and turned out to be a lot more sad than uplifting. But instead, it succeeds beautifully because it commits to showing more than gritty darkness — it shows the beauty in every heartbreak.

The very concept of a musical featuring only songs by ABBA seems like a ridiculous fantasy, but both the Mamma Mia! films balance out the fantastical musical elements with a strong sense of emotional realism. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again never shies away from the strength of Sophie’s grief, or the betrayals Donna suffers, or the overwhelming responsibility borne by Donna during her pregnancy.

Instead, by facing the emotions in a realistic way, it finds itself uniquely equipped to explore character development in a better way than most stories because its commitment to being thorough also shows us the beauty in every circumstance on Donna and Sophie’s face.

mamma mia 2 motherhood

Joy is much more effective than straight-up pain, because it’s realistic: even if we don’t notice it, every sad moment in life has beauty on some level — whether it’s the setting, the people that support us through suffering, or the strength in the effort to overcome difficulty.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again highlights that. When Donna is giving birth at the end, and Sophie is celebrating her mother’s life — and grieving her death – we witness how painful and isolating it all feels for them. But we also witness Donna’s overwhelming joy at the birth of her daughter, the sheer wonder that Donna’s life was in general… and how far Sophie has come in pursuing her own dreams and her mother’s.

The ability to turn a story like this into a musical, and turn every painful moment into a dance, is a testament to the expertise that engineered both movies. Mamma Mia! Here We go Again, perhaps even more so than the first movie, did something we all struggle to do: to face the beauty in sadness head-on, and celebrate every moment that led us to where we are.

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