Film Review – Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
I’ll start off this review with something positive.
Walking out of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018) – the aptly titled sequel to the musical Mamma Mia! (2008) – I saw plenty of people with smiles on their faces. They had a bounce to their step, looking at each other with sparkles in their eyes while humming all of the popular songs. I suppose this was an indicator for the kind of audience this film was aimed for. I am not in that demographic. I’m not a big fan of ABBA, nor was I fond of the stage show or cinematic adaptation. But still, there are certainly fans of this property and I’m sure they’ll get all the enjoyment they paid for with this installment.
Now it’s time to be The Grinch.
The latest foray in this musical fantasy is a candy-coated puff of nothingness. Written and directed by Ol Parker, the story is basically less of the same, where we find the same characters doing very little in between the numerous musical scenes. This time we are given two story arcs, one in the present with Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and the other featuring a younger version of her mother Donna (Lily James) set around the same Greek island we saw before. Peppered throughout is an extended cast, with Sophie’s three dads (Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard, Colin Firth) and their younger selves (Jeremy Irvine, Josh Dylan, Hugh Skinner respectively) as well as Donna’s best friends (Christine Baranski/Jessica Keenan Wynn, Julie Walters/Alexa Davies).
I hesitate to describe the plot because, well, there isn’t much of one. In the present, we find Sophie struggling to open the home her mother lived in as a hotel. Due to bad weather, all of the press and potential investors are blocked from visiting the island. You must be living some sort of special life when the biggest issue you’re dealing with is the lack of rich people in your vicinity. Meanwhile, we flash back to the past where a young Donna, fresh out of college, goes on an adventure of discovery only to wind up staying in one spot – the aforementioned Greek island. At the same time, she is dealing with three very nice and charming men who all seem perfect for her, leading up to the pregnancy that was the basis for the first film.
The entire cast seems to be having fun in their respective parts. Lily James is a standout amongst them. While Meryl Streep was easily the main attraction in the original, James holds her own in the same role. She has brightness swirling around her. There are very few moments where she is not smiling, even when we get a dramatic scene she pushes it away with a toe-tapping musical number soon after. We also get laughs from the Tanya and Rosie characters. Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies are the younger clones of Christine Baranski and Julie Walters. In their costumes, performances, and singing ability, there isn’t a false step in how Wynn and Davies recreate the characters so perfectly. One of the smaller but funnier bits deals with Rosie’s jealousy of Bill and Donna’s romance. How that story translates between the past and present worked surprisingly well, in a sort of goofy way.
The music is….what you would expect. It’s ABBA – you’re either going to go with it or you’re not. The best moments are the large, extravagant set pieces. “Dancing Queen” is performed with dozens of people on multiple boats. The camera (Robert D. Yeoman) pulls back and allows us to see everyone in bright vibrant colors, dancing with energy and joy. It’s too bad that we don’t get enough of that type of execution. The smaller, more intimate moments are simply bland and forgettable, and the fact that some of ABBA’s second tier songs are featured doesn’t add much when compared to their bigger, more popular hits.
The advertising campaign featured both Meryl Streep and Cher (playing Sophie’s grandmother). Someone should file a complaint for false advertising. Cher doesn’t show up until very late into the movie and doesn’t have anything of relevance to do. Meryl Streep has an even stranger involvement. She was the lead of the previous film and was easily the best thing going for it. Here she barely has any screen time. Why in the world would you have one of the biggest actresses in cinema history and then come up with a plot that deteriorates her role into little more than a cameo? It’s a head-scratching decision.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again rides on the charm of its cast and nothing more. It contains a plot that has no narrative momentum. The stakes are tepid at best, and the character development doesn’t go anywhere beyond surface level ideas like “love your family” or “chase after your dreams.” The sooner I stop thinking about this movie, the better.