I was probably one of the only people who saw “Mamma Mia” for the first time this year. Anticipating the release of “Mamma Mia 2,” I decided to watch the first movie, having heard it was a classic. As I watched it, I was blown away by the chemistry between Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried, and felt that it was just the right amount of cheesy. Enamored by the coastal Greek setting and sonorous melodies of the soundtrack, I wondered: how could “Mamma Mia 2” possibly surpass its predecessor? Well, I’m not sure that it did, but it was a close second.
The beginning of “Mamma Mia 2” was rather disappointing. Right away, I was told that Meryl Streep’s character, Donna, was dead. I was shocked by how nonchalantly that was revealed, as her daughter, Sophie, played by Amanda Seyfried, sighed and explained that she was reopening her mother’s hotel as a tribute. Donna was one of the best characters of the first movie, with her free spirit and her independence. Not having her star in the sequel was one of the biggest disappointments of the movie. However, it made sense for the plot.
“Mamma Mia 2” juxtaposes Sophie’s reopening of her mother’s hotel with Donna’s adventures around the world as a young woman. The original “Mamma Mia” revealed that during her youth, Donna had been with three men around the same time, resulting in her not knowing who Sophie’s father is. The father is never revealed, even in the sequel, and each father plays a main role in the movies and in Sophie’s life. “Mamma Mia 2” brings us back in time to when Donna meets the three men when they were all much younger. By having Donna already passed away in Sophie’s “present” storyline, “Mamma Mia 2” is able to focus on two more youthful characters—Sophie and young Donna.
Young Donna is the star of the show. She is played by Lily James, who is unbelievably talented and beautiful. With each boy she meets, from Harry to Bill to Sam, Donna reveals the energy and passion we all lust after in young love. She shares a duet with each of the men, introducing a new series of ABBA songs to the movie’s soundtrack. Donna playfully dances with Harry in a London cafe and with Bill on his sailboat. In her relationship with Sam, whom she marries in the future, many questions stemming from the previous movie are answered—such as why Donna was so upset with Sam when she reunited with him after many years, and why she chose to marry him soon after. As Sam and Donna explore the Greek island of Kalokairi, the island where Donna lived and established her hotel, we can see that the pair’s chemistry and love go beyond a one-night fling, as she had with the other men. When they ultimately break up because Sam did not tell her about his engagement to another woman throughout their relationship, Sam and Donna share a sad duet, but it is clear that they are not done loving each other.
Through young Donna, we are also able to see the vibrant relationship she had with her two best friends and bandmates, Rosie and Tanya. We see them as a trio of electric, bubbly girls who go from graduating college to performing on various stages in their flared pants—the classic uniform of their band, Donna and the Dynamos. Young Donna has an incredible personality, shown not only through her friendships and relationships, but also through her life journey. In this movie, we can see Donna taking a broken down, decrepit building and transforming it into a successful hotel from scratch. Not only that, but Donna has to go through her pregnancy with Sophie alone, shaping her strength as a powerful woman.
By creating parallel scenes of young Donna and Sophie, they epitomize the saying “like mother, like daughter.” Like Donna, Sophie is an independent woman. Sophie is shown putting all her effort and hard work into the reopening of her mom’s hotel. While preparing for the reopening, Sophie is not accompanied by her husband, Skye, and has to face various obstacles on her own, including a huge storm. The two storylines ultimately line up when Sophie finds out she is pregnant at the same time as young Donna. Sophie feels especially connected to her mother, as she is pregnant around the same age and at the same place as her mother was with her. This part of the movie is a touching representation of the connection between mother and daughter that continues on, despite the lack of her mother’s physical presence.
The only scene where Donna (Meryl Streep) appears is the one that made me sob uncontrollably because of the continued beauty of Sophie and Donna’s mother-daughter relationship. Eight months after the hotel reopening and after Sophie’s baby is born, Sophie brings her baby into a church on the island to christen him, the same church where Donna and Sam are married in the previous movie. As Sophie walks into the church, Donna is standing at the end of it, and she begins to sing the song “My Love, My Life.” Soon, the song becomes a duet, and Sophie and Donna are holding hands as they sing “You are still my love and my life / Still my one and only…” The charisma I had been longing for between the two, the same charisma that I had taken for granted in the previous movie, is finally showcased. With each lyric they harmonize, I feel the love they have for one another and the simultaneous sorrow for not being able to be with one another.
Ultimately, this movie is not only uplifting and youthful, with its ensemble song performances and often sunny, beachy settings, but also very emotional and romantic. The best part about “Mamma Mia 2” is its escapism. For two hours, I was able to live on a Greek island, bursting out in catchy songs every ten minutes. Although many scenes were very idealistic, especially in the scenes between young Donna and her suitors, it was still realistic enough to evoke my emotions. Even without the original Donna as a main character, her legacy was written across both plotlines—from her hotel to her younger self. By the end of the movie I had made peace with the lack of Meryl Streep. Her absence was made up for by the two strong female leads of young Donna and Sophie. They showed me what it meant to love fearlessly and lead powerfully.