FILM REVIEW – MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN. With Amanda Seyfried, Lily James, Cher, Christine Baranski, Pierce Brosnan. Written and directed by Ol Parker. Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material. 114 minutes.
Ten years ago “Mamma Mia!” was released. It was the movie version of the Broadway show inspired by the music of pop group ABBA… and it was a train wreck. Yet there were people who loved it and so now we get a sequel. MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN is – surprisingly – a much better film. Writer/director Ol Parker, who had nothing to do with the first movie, seems to have figured out what worked and what didn’t, and it shows.
The plot, of course, is fluff, constructed just so that there is an excuse to perform songs like “Dancing Queen,” “Fernando,” and “Waterloo.” We learn that Donna, the free-spirited character played by Meryl Streep in the first film has passed away. (No spoilers here but look at the ads for the new film.) Her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), has taken over the property on the Greek island where they lived and is ready to open it as a hotel.
Parker is credited with the script, but shares story credit with Catherine Johnson, who did the original play and movie, and – more significantly – Richard Curtis, whose credits include “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Love, Actually.” This is a much smarter and wittier script that the last time around, and while it’s difficult to parse out who did what, Curtis’s contributions could only have helped.
Fortunately, the present-day story, which will bring characters back including Donna’s friends Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters), as well as the three men any one of whom may be Sophie’s actual father (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård), does not carry the narrative or musical weight of the film. One of the problems with the first movie was that many in the cast – particular the male actors – couldn’t sing to save their lives.
This film solves that problem by having extended flashbacks to young Donna (a star-making turn by Lily James) meeting, in turn, young Harry (Hugh Skinner), young Bill (Josh Dylan), and young Sam (Jeremy Irvine). These young actors – who also include Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies as younger versions of Tanya and Rosie – can sing and dance without grating on the ear. Skinner and James do a surreal version of “Waterloo” at a Parisian restaurant that is much more entertaining than anything in, say, “The Greatest Showman” or “La La Land,” two painfully overpraised recent movie musicals. Added to the mix is Cher, as Sophie’s flamboyant grandmother, and Andy Garcia as the hotel’s manager. Cher, as we know, can sing, and has a showstopper duet with Garcia.
The result is a colorful and energetic movie with lots of familiar pop tunes (some repeating from the last film), and which should not only please those already fans but win over some new ones as well. “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is that rarest of sequels: it surpasses the original.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.