Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)
Ten years after the feel-good ABBA jukebox musical Mamma Mia! The Movie (2008) grossed more than $600 million worldwide, producer Judy Craymer and Swedish co-producers/ singer-songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus (one half of the 1970s pop quartet ABBA) are asking fans to ‘take a chance’ on the sequel, which has been aptly titled Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. With most of ABBA’s pop-tastic sing-along hits, such as ‘Dancing Queen,’ ‘S.O.S.,’ ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You,’ and the titular ‘Mamma Mia,’ having already appeared in the first outing, and its transcendent star Meryl Streep, who portrayed single mother/ innkeeper Donna Sheridan, basically absent for the majority of this follow-up due to *spoiler alert* her character having passed away in the interim, I was a little skeptical upon entering the next chapter of this fab-ABBA-lous saga, more so because I kinda hold the first flick (which revels in its own campy silliness) in high regard — and yes, I even like Pierce Brosnan’s Tom Waits-y version of ‘S.O.S.’
Thankfully, this second go-around manages to defy the odds and out-sing its predecessor thanks to several key factors. Written by director Ol Parker, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011), who’s working from a story he penned with Richard Curtis, Love Actually (2003), and British playwright Catherine Johnson — who wrote the 1999 ABBA-inspired stage musical and its 2008 big screen adaptation — the script is sharper and more emotionally complex/ earnest this time around, the narrative focusing on the invisible bond that exists between mothers and daughters whilst working as a spandexed celebration of single motherhood. Next up, we have the irresistible ‘super trooper’ Lily James, Baby Driver (2017), who portrays a younger version of Streep’s enthusiastic heroine Donna, and looks like ‘money, money, money’ in her ’70s go-go boots, the talented 29-year-old (who can actually sing) keeping much of this dizzying adventure afloat while simultaneously propelling her star power to the next level. And then we have the rest of the bronzed cast (both old and new) who seem to be having so much of a cheeky good time that it becomes infectious.
While the first movie followed Sophie Sheridan (played by the always-radiant Amanda Seyfried), a 20-year-old bride-to-be trying to discover the identity of her biological father, this zigzagging sequel-prequel takes us back to the sun-kissed Greek island of Kalokairi (where it never rains, unless it’s for dramatic effect), fives years after the events of the former film. You see, although Donna is gone, her memory is still very much alive, Sophie trying to fulfill her mother’s long-running dream of turning the beachfront taverna into a glitzy hotel she’s named Hotel Bella Donna to honor her mom.
We quickly discover, however, that while she’s being supported by her stepfather Sam (Pierce Brosnan) — one of her three possible dads — Sophie’s husband isn’t around, Sky (Dominic Cooper) having gone to New York to learn hotel management, her hubby calling her from his fancy office to inform her that he might be leaving the villa for good; cue the moving duet of ABBA’s ‘One Of Us.’ To make matters worse, as soon as Donna’s old Dynamo pals Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters) show up for the lavish grand opening, the hotel manager Señor Cienfuegos (a bearded Andy García) warns Sophie of an imminent storm that threatens to tear down the entire celebration.
All of this is inter-cut with a flashback to 1979, where we meet an eager twentysomething Donna (Lily James) as she’s graduating from Oxford University with her best buds, young Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and Rosie (Alexa Davies). Just as she hops on stage to deliver some kind of valedictorian speech, Donna tosses her gown off her shoulders and begins to belt out a spirited rendition of ‘When I Kissed the Teacher,’ the aforementioned number better choreographed and staged, and way more dynamic, than any performance seen in the original flick, despite the fact that it’s a lesser known track! From there Donna decides to embark on a European adventure, before making her way to the remote Greek island she’ll eventually call home.
On her journey, Donna meets three very attractive young men who fall for her energy, whether she’s clad in overalls or on the stage. Firstly, it’s young banker Harry (Hugh Skinner), who’s soaking up the sites in the City of Lights, the pair performing a zany Parisian version of ‘Waterloo’ in a French restaurant (keep your eyes peeled for a cameo from ABBA’s Benny Andersson who can be seen playing the piano at the start of the sequence). Donna later bumps into rakish seadog Bill (Josh Dylan), who agrees to ferry her to a picturesque island on his sailboat. Once there she makes the acquaintance of hunky architect Sam (Jeremy Irvine, who’s a dead ringer for a young Pierce Brosnan), whom she falls head-over-heels in love with. After impulsively shagging all three, Donna finds out that she’s pregnant, creating the who-is-the-dad mystery from the first movie — okay sure, there are a few inconsistencies when comparing both films, but in this case, I don’t think it really matters.
A boisterous array of light, sound and color, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again looks utterly sublime, the flick predominantly shot on the Croatian isle of Vis, which has been superbly lensed by Wes Anderson regular Robert D. Yeoman, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). Edited by Peter Lambert, The Death of Stalin (2017), the film seamlessly flips between past and present, this crisscrossing nature creating a number of parallels between Sophie and Donna, namely the theme of motherhood and the three men at the center of both women’s lives — lovers for Donna and father figures for Sophie, with Pierce Brosnan, GoldenEye (1995), Colin Firth, Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), and Stellan Skarsgård, Thor (2011), who aren’t afraid of looking a little silly, reprising their roles as Sam Carmichael, Harry Bright and Bill Anderson respectively.
And, although the soundtrack mostly features B tracks, the music still feels very much alive, some of the highlights including James’ sensual ‘Andante, Andante,’ which she sings to Sam whilst auditioning for a bar-band gig, and the touching ‘My Love, My Life,’ performed by Streep and Seyfried. A number of high-profile show tunes also resurface, for instance ‘Dancing Queen,’ which is integrated better this time around, the song playing as a marvelous flotilla of boats comes sailing through the aqua blue waters toward the island, just in time for Sophie’s big bash.
Then there’s the ABBA-solutely spectacular Cher, Moonstruck (1987), who portrays Sophie’s absentee platinum blonde grandmother Ruby Sheridan, the Queen of Camp helicoptering into the action (uninvited) at the eleventh hour to steal the entire show, her arrival even resulting in a round of applause at the screening I attended — and this is before her show-stopping rendition of the classic ABBA hit ‘Fernando,’ which she performs with the elegant Andy Garcia in front of a dazzling fireworks display, a track she was clearly born to cover. It’s also worth mentioning stand-up comedian Omid Djalili, The Mummy (1999), who scores a heap of big laughs as a dockside customs officer, whose great work earns him the flick’s only post-credits cookie.
Ultimately, at 114 glorious minutes, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is goofy, heartfelt, melodramatic fun, the movie sprinkled with the perfect amount of irresistible charm, filmmaker Ol Parker transporting audiences to a place where friendships are true, love is everlasting (and attainable, even at my age), cynicism is scarce and the bonds of family are forever — somewhere I could definitely spend the rest of my life (especially if Goldilocks Amanda Seyfried lives there and I can eat baklava all day long). Honestly, you’d have to have the hardest of hearts not to walk out of this one without a grin the size of a Cheshire Cat’s. Heck, if the quality remains this good, I’d be open for a third Mamma Mia … Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! a trilogy (just don’t wait another decade maybe).
4.5 / 5 – Highly Recommended
Reviewed by Mr. Movie