In 2008, the world was re-exposed to the music of Swedish pop group ABBA, thanks to the summer blockbuster “Mamma Mia!”. In that musical-turned-film that was based on ABBA songs, we followed the story of Sophie Sheridan (Amanda Seyfried), who – while looking for her real Dad before her wedding because her mom (Meryl Streep) opted to remain secretive about her past – ended up discovering the real meaning of family.
It helps, of course, that the story is pushed forward by ABBA songs – from the melancholic “I Have a Dream”, to the always-lively “Dancing Queen”, to the poetic (albeit sad) “Our Last Summer” and “Slipping Through My Fingers”, and to the flirtatious “Lay All Your Love on Me”, “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” and to the very title of the film, “Mamma Mia”.
That film earned $615.7 million in the box office, highlighting – perhaps – that ABBA has not really gone (even if the group disbanded in 1982). By successfully encapsulating the essence of the songs, we – like Sophie – journeyed to joyful self-discovery.
A decade after “Mamma Mia!” was released, we revisited Sophie and – yes – ABBA via “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”.
This time around, the story picks up with Sophie (Seyfried) pregnant and single just as her mother, Donna (Streep), was years earlier. A spoiler: Donna is dead. So in her place, and to comfort Sophie, Donna’s friends and former bandmates, Rosie (Julie Walters) and Tanya (Christine Baranski) share stories of Donna in her adventurous youth.
And from this, there are five lessons I think “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” can teach everyone not just about family, but about real love.
1. Love can come from unexpected places.
With Donna’s death a year earlier, two of her fathers (Harry and Bill) unable to make it to the reopening of Donna’s hotel, and Sky (her partner) in New York, the pregnant Sophie was not having an easy time.
But even if these people very close to her are not (supposedly) around, she is not lacking for love. Rosie and Tanya, for instance, are there for her; and even the community that they helped shape via Donna’s hotel back her up.
I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Nine of the singles of ABBA – formed by Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny and Anni-Frid in Stockholm, Sweden almost half a century ago – are about love, which is the group’s most-popular subject. Five of those songs went to No. 1: “Waterloo”, “Mamma Mia”, “The Name of the Game”, “Take a Chance on Me” and “Super Trouper”.
As an FYI: The group’s next most-popular subject matter (with four singles) is about lust. But none of those reached top spot [even if “Voulez-Vous” and “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” reached number three].
2. When you find real love, hold on to it as long as you can.
Remember the way the first film ended, with Sophie’s three dads basically saying that it doesn’t matter who her biological father is, they all claim to be her family because they love her?
“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” continues that premise.
That is, that when you find real love (whether it’s romantic or familiar or whatever), hold on to it.
3. Not all heartbreaks break us.
Three of ABBA’s singles are about heartbreak, and two are about loneliness – themes that “Mamma Mia!” and “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” also tackle.
And while the first movie included “The Winner Takes It All”; the second one included “Why Did It Have to Be Me” and “Angel Eyes” – all these songs actually lamenting about lost love.
But here’s the thing: These songs may be sad, but they are also self-aware, with the one singing it actually being thankful for the loving. This highlights that there may be moments when loving hurts; but this does not need to break us.
4. Your past never disappears; you just learn to live with it.
That Donna is dead exemplifies “past”. But instead of just forgetting the past, it may be best to learn to live with it instead. This is why Sophie is celebrating Donna.
“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” also shows that your past will eventually catch up with you. The first film, after all, had Donna claiming her mother is dead; but in the second movie, this mother appeared in the person of Cher.
To this end, too, ABBA’s “Fernando”, as sang by the indomitable Cher, is more than apt: “Though we never thought that we could lose, there’s no regret…”
To survive, we all move on from our past, learning how to live with the lessons we got from it.
5. Live in the present.
Donna’s character was always in-the-present (which explains her falling in love with three succeeding guys; and then – when she got pregnant – deciding to settle down to form a family). And there is something that can be learned with loving from Donna. That is, to grab every moment as they come, and savor these moments. Some of these moments may not happen again, and there’s no sense living with regrets for what-could-have-been’s.
“Dancing Queen” may arguably be ABBA’s most popular – and catchy – song. But to summarize this lessons in loving, I’d say “Thank You for the Music” is more apt. The words may refer to music as a whole; but it may as well refer to loving, i.e.:
“So I say
Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing
Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing
Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty
What would life be?
Without a song or a dance what are we?
So I say thank you for the music
For giving it to me…”
So I say thanks to “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” for giving me a glimpse of real love.