Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
After the first film grossed over $600 million worldwide in 2008, people are eager to see Mamma Mia! return to the big screen.
Lily James deserves to be a bigger star and household name, and she is the best thing about this sequel.
The last half hour or so, once the “Dancing Queen” sequence arrives, turns this into a straight-up party - loose, freewheeling, and quite a lot of fun (for that last half hour).
I have to be honest here: This movie is a chore to sit through for the first 75-80 minutes or so.
If you were not a fan of the first film, I struggle to see how this one will win you over. Granted, it did almost turn the tide for me by the end, but this is a haphazardly constructed “story” that really just uses flimsy plot to get you from one ABBA sequence to another.
If you don’t like ABBA’s music, then…wait…why are you reading this review again?!?
Less a movie and more of a series of strung-together vignettes and awkward music video-like ABBA karaoke sequences, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again finds itself smack dab in the middle of summer blockbuster season.
In 2008, audiences around the globe swooned over Mamma Mia!, adapted from the Tony Award-nominated Broadway play, which took 18 songs by the immensely popular Swedish vocal group, and stitched them into a story involving a woman named Donna (Meryl Streep), unable to identify which, among three former lovers, was the actual father of her 20-year-old daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried).
Now a decade later, nearly everyone is back together (though the movie picks up a handful of years from the conclusion of the previous film), and we are belting our way through another 110-minute ABBA jukebox musical.
This time around, Sophie coming to terms with some recent changes in her life and is finishing up preparations to unveil the renovated farmhouse-slash-villa she and her mother occupied on the Greek island of Kalokairi. She has named the establishment, Hotel Bella Donna, honoring her mother, and has invited dozens of people to celebrate its grand opening.
A problem soon arises as a pending storm threatens to ruin all of Sophie’s plans and arrangements, rendering guests unable to make it to the island. On top of that, a storm of a different kind is forming back home in the States – boyfriend Sky (Dominic Cooper) just landed a full-time job offer with his company and would like the two of them to move back home.
And so, when life gives you lemons, turn to ABBA’s 1981 ballad, “One Of Us,” to make lemonade.
Stepping into the director’s chair, writer Ol Parker crafts together what can best be described as Donna’s origin story. We learn all about the happenings which led to her staying in the villa on that Grecian island, becoming smitten with those precocious men in her life, and subsequently making the decision to live alone and raise a child on her own.
Lily James (Cinderella, Baby Driver) slides into the role of Young Donna, circa 1979 or so, and gives a great performance. Idealistic, a little bit of a wandering soul, James does the right thing in not impersonating Streep’s performance. Instead, she captures nuances in Streep’s characterization and creates a strong, confident, imperfect woman who we really grow to like a great deal.
As good as James is though, I must be honest: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is a chore to sit through.
James has fun chemistry with her friends Tanya, played in her younger days by Jessica Keenan Wynn, and Christine Baranski in the present-day timeline, and Rosie (Alexa Davies, Julie Walters), each bringing some great enthusiasm to the flashback scenes. Overall, however, nothing ever seems as spontaneous as a musical should be; a movie which features people randomly bursting into ABBA tunes should be more alive and flamboyant. Instead, we get lots of mid-tempo, indistinguishable ballads, which, when combined with the film’s back-and-forth, non-linear storytelling framework, feels unnecessary.
Just when all hope seems lost, and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again feels like one of the year’s most disappointing films, we see James and crew bust into “Mamma Mia!” and the movie perks up a little bit. Then, a few minutes later, in an admittedly campy, kitschy, straight-out-of-the-70s musical number, the sequel bursts alive, transforming itself into something completely different than everything we have seen before it.
I am reminded that, if movies have taught me anything, it is a verifiable fact that whenever someone plans on throwing a giant party, no matter what problems may arise, that party is going to happen.
And once we get to “Dancing Queen”, this thing rises from the dead. As a matter of fact, from “Dancing Queen” on, Here We Go Again becomes a completely different movie. The film turns to party-mode, the tone lightens, the music is more engaging, Cher’s much-discussed appearance in the movie takes shape, and we sense some real tangible connections between script, song, and performance.
Walking out of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, I chuckled at how goofy this whole thing has been from a cinematic standpoint. On Broadway, an idea like Mamma Mia! makes complete sense, and the recognition the stage production received proves that point. As a film, this never quite worked for me.
I guess I just didn’t get it.
That is…until “Yoouuuuu are the dancing queeeeeennnnnnn!” filled my earlobes and I started to tap my feet and sit up a little higher in my chair. Finally, I felt what others told me I had been missing for almost 200-plus minutes between both films.
At our screening, people applauded when the title card came on, as if this was Star Wars or a new Marvel movie. People clapped again when it was over.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again really isn’t much of a movie, and certainly is not very good for almost two-thirds of its running time. However, through James’ inspired performance, gaining confidence the longer the movie goes, this second trip through the ABBA songbook vastly improves on the joyless, haphazard melodrama of its predecessor.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Alexa Davies, Dominic Cooper, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgård, Colin Firth, Cher, Meryl Streep, Jeremy Irvine, Andy Garcia, Hugh Skinner.
Director: Ol Parker
Written by: Ol Parker (screenplay); Richard Curtis, Ol Parker, Catherine Johnson (story)
Originally conceived by Judy Craymer
Based on the original musical “Mamma Mia!” by Catherine Johnson.
Songs written by: Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Stig Anderson
Release Date: July 20, 2018