Film review by Jason Day of the movie Mama Mia! Here We Go Again. This sequel to the blockbuster from 2008 reunites the former cast and new guests, including grandmother Cher.
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It’s one year since the charismatic and carefree B&B owner Donna (Meryl Streep) died and her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) has renovated her idyllic Grecian home/business and is preparing for the big day.
But storm clouds are brewing all over as two of Sophie’s three father’s (Colin Firth and Stellan Skargsard) can’t attend the grand opening, weather permits any journalists from getting a ferry and her husband Skye (Dominic Cooper) is in New York, after having tentatively accepted a hotel management job there.
I enjoyed the first Mama Mia! (2008) in spite of myself.
I’m not a musical fan but within its glitzy saccharinity and unabashed artificiality, there were enough classic Abba tracks (I do at least like a bit of Abba) to keep even an old curmedgeon such as I happy. And who could resist the beauty of sun-kissed Greece?
I walked out of the cinema after seeing that film with songs in my head, the sun in my heart…and a deep desire to shoot the first person I encountered.
With this sequel, directed by actor Nathaniel Parker’s brother Oliver, the effect was more or less the same…but I wanted to shoot myself after the closing credits rolled.
With the best toe-tapping, sing-a-long numbers from Abba’s back collection taken, used up and spat out onto cinema floors across the world for the first instalment, keeping up the breezy, feel good tempo with a sequel was never going to be easy.
This explains the second-rate, hand-me-down feel we have to this follow-up, filled as it is with the lesser known efforts from the 70’s Swedish super troupers. It should have been called ‘Mama Mia! The B-Side’.
The fizzy, frothy and ridiculously contrived atmosphere of the original movie has been replaced with a more po-faced, serious follow-up. Mama Mia was so inoffensive and sweetly needy to entertain, it almost gave you a headache with it’s good naturedness.
But despite all the best intentions, Here We Go Again feels like the producers have scraped the bottom of the barrel with the songs and choreography.
The opening number for a musical sets the scene for the frivolity that follows. Using ‘When I Kissed the Teacher’ for the younger Donna’s (Lily James’) graduation is cute and broad-minded (Donna graduates to question which of three young bucks fathered her daughter), but there’s something head-shakingingly desperate about it all. It should be light-hearted, daft and rousing, but instead it’s embarrassing, excruciating…toe-curling.
The ‘Waterloo’/Napoleon restaurant sequence is another example of a scene that doesn’t gel. It is lengthy, poorly sung and the dancing slow, dragged out and clunky staged, dare I say it, amateur. It’s as if someone thought it out and staged it in an afternoon.
The business-backdrop of hotelering, project managing an ambitious rural renovation and PR and marketing might make another film sexy, but it adds a frighteningly dull edge to this ‘larks and lazarakia’ nonsense.
There’s no fault with this amazing cast however who prove, as before, they are completely up for letting their hair down, being silly and kicking their feet in the air.
Man-hungry Christine Baranski and Cher prove indomitable, caustic, grande American dames. When Baranski first spies Andy Garcia, as one of Seyfried’s hired helps, she says:
Be still my beating vagina. Have him washed and brought to my tent.
She gets the best lines…until the (apparently) older guard arrive.
You’d think Cher, with her towering personality and profile would unbalance the film, but she actually slots in quite well. Tacked on at the end, but leading on the last two numbers, she also proves that her throaty singing voice is still in fine working order.
Her casting does, however, confuse the viewer. She looks much, much younger than the woman who played her recently deceased daughter (at the time of going to press, in real-life Cher is 73. Streep is 69). Cher’s use of cosmetic surgery throughout the years is hardly headline news and she looks as fabulous as you would expect…but she’s playing someone who must be about 80.
And on her romancing Andy Garcia, who reminisces about first meeting her in 1959 – the actor would only have been three years old at the time!
Will there be a third movie? Where will they find new material? Will Streep be resurrected for another post-death fantasy trilling sequence?
Mama Mia! – best that the producers ask the Abba guys if they can have a good rummage in the bins and archive files before any sign on the dotted line for a new script.
NB: Bjorn and Benny from Abba are seen in cameos. Bjorn as one of Donna’s University top-brass during her graduation ceremony. Benny plays the piano during the Waterloo scene.
Cast & credits
Director: Ol Parker. 1hr 54 mins (114mins). Legendary Entertainment/Universal. (PG)
Producers: Judy Craymer, Gary Goetzman.
Writer: Ol Parker.
Camera: Robert D. Yeoman.
Music: Benny Andersson, Anne Dudley, Bjorn Ulvaeus.
Sets: Andrew Palmer.
Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Meryl Streep, Dominic Cooper, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard, Christine Baranski, Colin Firth, Cher, Julie Walters, Jeremy Irvine, Andy Garcia, Josh Dylan, Hugh Skinner, Celia Imrie.