July 22, 2018
We all know sequels are hit or miss at best. Just because a concept and a group of characters work well together once, there’s no guarantee the magic can be recreated a second time around. Luckily for audiences who were charmed by their first visit to Kalokairi a decade ago, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is here to take you back!
Since we last visited the beautiful island off the coast of Greece, the heroine of the first film, Donna, has passed away, inadvertently handing down the mantle of luminescent expat beauty to her daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried). Sophie has made her mom’s lifelong dream of opening a hotel on the island a reality but, of course, nothing is going exactly as planned. Sophie finds herself somewhat estranged from her husband Sky (Dominic Cooper), navigating her relationships with her three dads (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard), and fighting Mother Nature in an effort to preserve her mom’s memory and ensure a future for her own growing family.
Through it all, the songs of ABBA buoy the narrative and the characters, giving the audience insight into what’s happening (as the best musicals do) and guaranteeing an emotional connection to a story that runs fairly thin on new information.
In flashbacks, we see how Donna (Lily James, completely convincing at every turn as the younger version of the character originally brought to life by Meryl Streep) found her way to Kalokairi in the first place. Her vibrant joy in whatever life has to offer is contagious and explains why everyone who meets her falls in love with her. In the movie’s most poignant moments, we see how her greatest love of all ended up being the daughter she never planned for.
In between the bubble gum pop of ABBA’s music and crackling comedic performances by Christina Lahti and Julie Walters, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again has quite a lot to say about mothers and their progeny. There’s a strong feminist streak running through the generations portrayed here. No mother who loves her child is judged for her choices – want to go on tour, like Donna’s mother (hilariously brought to life by Cher in the final moments of the film)? Great! You’ll turn out an independent, conquer-the-world, never-meet-a-stranger dynamo (pun intended!) like Donna. Want to devote your life to raising your daughter in a breathtakingly gorgeous environment where it quite literally takes a village to raise her? Great! She’ll end up a responsible, grounded, empathetic beauty like Sophie. The film never lingers too long on these themes, never gets preachy, never veers into potentially murky melodrama, but the message that love is the most important thing will resonate with every mother who’s wondered if she’s making the right choice for her child.
If one were to strictly judge Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again on its parts, it would be quite easy to call out the stunt casting (I mentioned Cher, right?), an abundance of montages, and kitschy quirk that borders on being overly cheesy. But somehow the movie rises above the weakness of those parts to deliver an effervescent whole. In the midst of summer blockbusters and just before the awards-season rush of dramas, it manages to carve out a very welcome place of respite where you can dance along to spirit-lifting choreography and gaze at a gorgeous sun-kissed cast whose beauty is matched only by the natural landscape of the world they inhabit.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again never shies away from supporting its characters, but also never takes itself too seriously, and ultimately manages to be the most delightful movie this side of the Mediterranean.
Star Rating: 4 out of 5