It’s been a long summer, actually, a loooong summer. Just when there seems to be no break in the heat the sweet popcorn bliss of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again enters stage right, pursued by dancers in bell bottoms. Initially, I was doubtful about the prospect of a Mamma Mia! sequel. With most sequels I ask myself: does the world need another of [insert major movie franchise here]? Usually, the jaded film critic inside me says no. Several months ago I had the same response to this Mamma Mia! sequel. However, last week I found myself getting excited when I saw previews, noticed people talking about it on Twitter, and listened to ABBA (*you are the dancing queen, young and sweet . . .*).
You guys, it was so much fun! I laughed, I cried, I added peasant tops and shimmery eye shadow to my mental shopping cart.
Mamma Mia! focused on Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) unraveling the mystery of her dad’s identity and holding her eventual wedding. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again follows two timelines. Timeline #1 (or should it be timeline #2 since chronologically it comes after the events of Mamma Mia!? Let’s not stress the timelines too much. It’s not an episode of Doctor Who after all.) So, timeline #1 continues Sophie’s story as she opens an inn on the gorgeous Greek island where her mom raised her. Once again we get to see Sophie’s three dads, her hubby Sky (Dominic Cooper), and her mom’s best friends/girl group partners in crime Rosie (Julie Walters) and Tanya (Christine Baranski). Timeline #2 features younger versions of many of the same characters, specifically Donna (Lily James), Harry (Hugh Skinner), Bill (Josh Dylan), Sam (Jeremy Irvine), Rosie (Alexa Davies), and Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn— sporting a remarkable impersonation of Christine Baranski’s voice) albeit with 70’s costumes as they meet, become entangled in romantic relationships, and generally make cute with the singing and dancing.
Let’s be clear, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is not a movie that will win awards or change movie musicals for all time. That’s not what this movie’s about nor is it why fans will go see it. The fact that the creators and cast of the film understand this makes me love them all the more. This movie is funny, silly, goofy and a delightful two-hour respite from reality. While the first few numbers felt off—either choreographed too literally to follow the lyrics or focused on a young Donna who wasn’t featured in the first film (and therefore doesn’t have much of an initial connection with the audience)—as soon as I saw the mature Rosie and Tanya I got a giant grin on my face and settled in to enjoy the music, dancing, and Cher of it all.
All of the returning cast do a nice job (thankfully the producers minimized Pierce Brosnan’s musical solos). Baranski and Walters are standouts as in the first movie and Cher brings all the glamour and camp you want her to with a platinum wig to match. Colin Firth really leaned into the nerdy loveableness of Harry and earned several of the biggest laughs in my theater (a Titanic reference alone was worth the cost of my ticket). Meryl Streep reappears only briefly but is dependable as ever and her character remains the emotional heart of the film as it celebrates mothers and daughters.
Lily James, probably best known for playing cousin Rose on Downton Abbey and Cinderella in Disney’s recent live action remake, has the toughest role as she plays the younger version of Meryl Streep’s character. She nails it. James’ singing has a lovely quality to it and she captures the carefree unconventionality of Donna while still making her emotional arc understandable (no small feat given the gauze thin plot connecting all the ABBA hits here). I was struck again by just how cool Donna is. She’s the lead singer of a girl group, she travels the world, and then decides to raise her daughter on her own in the seaside paradise that is Greece. For all the silliness of the film (and I love it for that in its own kooky way), the fact that it chooses for its protagonist this unique woman who shirks many of the stereotypes we see in characters who are also moms differentiates the Mamma Mia films from other jukebox musicals.
Although Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is a sequel, a musical, and makes for fantastic escapism, it provoked a surprising number of thoughtful, dare I say, philosophical questions, such as:
- Has Christine Baranski discovered the fountain of youth? What is in her water and where can I buy some?
- Is goofy dad Colin Firth actually peak Colin Firth?
- Should I uproot my life and open up an inn on a remote Greek island?
- Will there be a third installment speculatively titled Mamma Mia! How Can I Resist You?
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again ends with a sort of celestial curtain call featuring all the characters (both the young and mature versions of Donna, et.al). Everyone is in fantastic lamé jumpsuits and Cher kicks off the singing of “Super Trouper.” I can only hope this is how I’m greeted when I get to the pearly gates!