Summer 2018 is coming to an end. There were a number of huge movie releases over the past few months, but outside of Avengers: Infinity War, I really didn’t have anything to say about them. Deadpool 2, Solo, Incredibles 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, and Ant-Man and the Wasp we’re all (for the most part) just fine.
I’m not entirely sure what compelled me to see Here We Go Again. Maybe it was head turning-ly high Rotten Tomatoes score, or maybe the morbid curiosity that comes when a movie’s subtitle is Here We Go Again. The thing is though I don’t have a horse in this race. I’m not a fan of the first movie, and in general, I don’t like jukebox musicals and superfluous sequels.
And yep, Here We Go Again is both of those things. Somehow though, it manages to be genuinely great.
Picking up five years after the first film, Here We Go Again sees Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) planning the reopening of the hotel owned by her mother Donna (Meryl Streep), who has passed away a year earlier. Interspersed with scenes of Sophie making arrangements and consoling one of her three dads Sam (Pierce Brosnan), the film flashes back to young Donna (Lily James) and the fateful summer where she boinks Sam and the Sophie’s two other hunky potential dads.
Like the first film (and the musical it is based on), most scenes are anchored by the cast belting out ABBA songs; this time including Cher, who shows up at the end as Sophie’s long-absent and fabulous grandmother.
That’s it. That’s the movie. If it seems really simple, it is. If it seems almost devoid of plot, character development, or most other things found in a “Screenplay 101” book, it is. Here We Go Again is all the criticism you can lob at the film just by watching the trailer.
The thing is though, Here We Go Again doesn’t even bother with all of that. An engaging plot or richly defined characters aren’t the focus of this movie. Chances are you could decipher that from the trailer as well, but what’s hiding in the movie itself is an invitation to explore our two most dynamic and omnipresent emotions: joy and sadness.
That’s a little Inside Out-y, but bear with me.
As stated before, there’s really not too much going on story-wise here. Instead, scenes are often stripped down to their emotional core, shedding the weight of plot or the “who’s Sophie’s real dad?” business of the first movie. What’s left is an encompassing reflection of the ABBA songs featured. When we are first introduced to young Donna and “When I Kissed the Teacher,” is sung, it’s goofy and instantly smile inducing. Same goes for “Waterloo,” “Why Did It Have to Be Me?,” “Dancing Queen,” etc.
This is all to say Here We Go Again is criminal levels of fun. Most scenes, most songs, and most everything in the movie is genetically engineered to be a blast. Seeing veteran actors such as Christine Baranski or Colin Firth and younger talent like human sunshine factory Lily James dancing, jiving, and having the time of their lives is absolutely contagious. There’s really no denying Here We Go Again’s ability to make you happy.
But here’s where it gets tricky.
Donna has been dead for one year in the Mamma Mia Cinematic Universe (MMCU for short). To the best of my knowledge, Meryl Streep was not unavailable for filming Here We Go Again. She is, as the trailers lead one to believe, in the movie.
So why would the filmmakers purposely remove the main character of the first movie? Why handicap your film by purposely excluding one of the greatest actors of all time? Why kill off Donna?
Because it makes the movie really, really sad.
So many scenes in Here We Go Again are punctuated by a blow of melancholy as characters lament their lost companion. This is perhaps first made clear in a scene where an overwhelmed Sophie embraces Sam. She wistfully tells her dad “I’m not sure if I can face it.”
Sam reassures his daughter that “It will get better, just not quite yet.”
He wasn’t lying, as what follows is a broken Sam trying his best to sing “S.O.S,” the song shared by him and Donna in the first film. After a few words, his voice becomes brittle and weak. He has to sit down. As the tries to get out the last few words of the line, “When you’re gone, though I try how can I carry on?” he can’t finish it. He breaks down in tears and oh my God so do I.
THEN IT GETS WORSE. In the film’s climax, Sophie is christening her newborn son at the same church where young Donna baptised her. As Sophie enters the church, we flashback to young Donna, holding her daughter, beginning to sing “My Love, My Life.” You start bracing for what’s to come.
After a verse, the camera pans up to reveal old Donna in the church with Sophie, and together, they finish the song. Mother and daughter; my love, my life.
You won’t have time to question the logistics of ghost Donna with tears erupting from your face. You’re not thinking about the weird Christ symbolism. At this point, you’re not even trying to conceal the blubbering mess you’ve become.
But you know Here We Go Again can’t end this way, and it doesn’t. After the christening scene concludes and the screen fades, emerging from the darkness is Cher, who, as the credits roll, sings “Super Trouper” with the entire cast. Old and young (living or deceased), all in ABBA apparel, all beaming with light.
Fittingly, this is where it all comes together.
The sweet joy and inconsequential fluff collides with the bitter and unbearable sadness sprinkled throughout the film, and it clicks: Here We Go Again is telling us everything is going to be OK. The two emotional extremes meet, lock arms, and invite everyone to come on the stage and dance.
It will get better, just not quite yet, and that’s OK.
I’m not saying this combination of the two extremes is nuanced or groundbreaking. It just makes for a really good movie. And this past summer, I think we all needed one of those.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is completely unnecessary. Nobody was asking for this sequel, and I certainly wasn’t.
I am so glad that it exists.