Film & Television

‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’—Seriously Silly and Simply Delightful

The aptly named sequel/prequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again brought in more than $34 million its opening weekend (losing out only to Denzel Washington’s Equalizer 2 at $35.8 million). It takes place five years after (and twenty years before) the original story. Virtually the entire cast has returned, along with a crew of talented younger actors for the flashback scenes and screen diva Cher, who provides plenty of flash in the more contemporary story.

Sadly (and not a spoiler really if you’ve seen any of the trailers), Donna has moved on to that glam rock mosh pit in the sky. Her death is revealed within the first few minutes of the movie, although never explained. Sophie and Sam still live on Kalokairi; Sky is in New York “learning the hotel business.” Sophie’s other two dads, as well as her two godmothers, have been invited to the grand opening of the newly imagined Bella Donna hotel.

Disheartened after a storm undoes much of Sophie’s work, she turns to Tanya and Rosie to learn how her mother managed it all by herself so many years ago. From here on, the movie splits its time between the sometimes-parallel stories of young Donna (the charming and multi-talented Lily James) and Sophie. We see how Donna left college to “make some memories” and subsequently fell for three different guys, apparently within a single menstrual cycle. By the time she realizes she’s pregnant, all of her beaux have moved along, and she has the baby with the help of a local barkeeper/mother-figure. Naturally, each adventure is set to a more-or-less appropriate ABBA song. Some — “Waterloo,” staged in a Parisian restaurant, comes to mind — are silly to the point of being ridiculous. But, that’s all part of the fun.

Back to Sophie’s life: her dreams of a hotel dedicated to the memory of her mom are helped along by (singing and dancing) locals, her mother’s friends and lovers, and toward the end of the film, a surprise visit from her glamorous grandmother (Cher), who reunites with old flame Fernando (Andy Garcia), which causes her to sing — you guessed it — “Fernando.”

If you can stand the sheer campiness of it all, Cher has recently announced an upcoming album of ABBA covers. The 72-year old entertainer looks great and sounds even better. And the fact that she’s only three years older than Streep, but playing her mother, delighted the younger actress. The two have been friends since they starred together in 1983’s Silkwood.

Streep, who is listed in the credits despite Donna’s death, makes an otherworldly appearance toward the end of the movie. In the chapel where Sophie and Sky didn’t get married (but Donna and Sam did), her spirit blesses her daughter and her daughter’s baby. If you’re the least bit sentimental (or a mother or a grandmother), bring a hanky for the heart-wrenching rendition of “My Love, My Life.” As a mom myself, and a musical theater enthusiast, I shed a tear or two (or twelve). Fans of the earlier film will recall the lovely mother-daughter duet and tearjerker “Slipping Through My Fingers.” Although the original plot began with a search for a father, the movie celebrated motherhood and all its bittersweetness.

So does Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. It has earned significantly better reviews than the original, but I don’t think anyone would argue that it’s an important or serious film (even though it’s often seriously entertaining). It isn’t a work of art. But, it’s a work of extremely talented craft, including the sets and costumes, musical production numbers, and a first-rate cast gamely giving it their all. Several of the most familiar (and earworm-worthy) tunes from the first movie are repeated, including “Super Trouper,” “Dancing Queen,” “I Have a Dream,” and “The Name of the Game,” as well as the title song.

And yes, alas, Brosnan — who earned a 2008 stellan”Razzie” award for “Worst Supporting Actor in Film” last time — does sing again, but only a few lines.

Fans were concerned a few months ago when teaser trailers came out and hinted that Donna was dead. And, watching Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, you do miss Streep’s incomparable energy: jumping on the bed, dancing through the streets. However, James is a very satisfying consolation prize. Best known to many of us as Downton’s Lady Rose, the young actress’s credits include Disney’s live action Cinderella, TV’s War & Peace, Baby Driver, and a Kenneth Branagh production of Romeo and Juliet. Her lovely voice, exuberant energy, and sheer joy are delightful.

In fact, delightful is the perfect way to describe Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. And, with everything going on in the world today, you could do worse than devoting two hours to being delighted.

You can find the original Mamma Mia! on Netflix or through your cable company. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is in theaters now.

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