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Friday, July 20, 2018

Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again

I'm pleasantly surprised by how well Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again turned out.  Not only was I able to resist the forced charms of the original 2008 summer blockbuster, but I am against the very idea of musicals having sequels.  They have seldom if ever worked, whether you look to the stage (see Love Never Dies, Andrew Lloyd Webber's misguided attempt to pump out a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera) or to the screen (see 1982's notorious Grease 2).  To me, it's just a bad idea.  Musicals really come across as self-contained spectacles in my eyes, and there's really never a need for a continuation.  Yet, it's an idea that Broadway and filmmakers continue to chase once in a while, such as when they attempted to do a sequel to Annie for the stage, where the evil Mrs. Hannigan tried to murder the little orphan and replace her with a doppelganger in order to fool Daddy Warbucks.  And yes, that really happened.

So, why did this work for me?  Was I just in the right mood for a piece of cinematic fluff built around the hit songs of ABBA?  Did the rainy and gray weather outside just put me in the right mood for something cheerful and energetic?  Well, I honestly think that this is a better movie.  It's sweeter, not quite as empty-headed (it's still not that smart, mind you), and there are some genuinely touching moments near the end.  The movie was able to get past my defenses, unlike the original.  There are some laughs, a lot of enthusiastically sung and choreographed songs, and it genuinely made me feel happy when it was done.  That's obviously what writer-director Ol Parker (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), has set out to do, and he succeeds.  I'm sure there will be plenty of cynics who shy away from this, but I don't care.

One element that is missing from the original that might disappoint some fans is Meryl Streep, whose character Donna Sheridan has died one year prior to the events of this sequel.  Her character is still ever-present, however.  Not only is part of the film's plot based around flashbacks of her as a recent college graduate (played in flashbacks by a winning and charming Lily James), but there are constant reminders throughout of her, and the filmmakers have even managed to work in a clever and very heartfelt cameo for Streep.  So, it's not like she's completely been obliterated from the storyline.  And James is a wonderful stand-in as the younger Donna, who after graduating decides to explore the world, eventually finds her way to the Greek Island where the present day action is set, and meets up with the three men who will all play a big part in her personal and romantic life.  The three men are once again Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and Harry (Colin Firth), and in the flashbacks, the young men are portrayed by Jeremy Irvine, Josh Dylan and Hugh Skinner, respectively.

If you remember the original Mamma Mia!, Donna's daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) invited the three men to her wedding, because she was certain that one of them was her birth father.  There was a lot of over the top singing, dancing and characters hooking up with each other.  This time, there's a little bit more plot. (Just barely, actually.) With her mother gone, Sophie has taken over the vacation villa that Donna used to run, and is planning a grand opening celebration after having fixed it up.  Working on the place that was her mother's dream is what brings about the flashbacks, where we see the younger Donna finding the villa in the first place, meeting the men, and eventually giving birth to Sophie on her own, which inspires her daughter to do her best.  There is once again over the top singing, dancing and characters hooking up with each other, and there's the arrival of Sophie's grandmother Ruby (Cher), who crashes the grand opening party by showing up in a helicopter and making a spectacle of herself.  And no, I don't know if I just described the character or Cher herself.  There's even a small but charming role for Andy Garcia, who after Book Club and now this is becoming quite winning in romantic comedy roles.

Nothing has really changed all that much from the original, but for some reason, I just found this movie funnier and a little less desperate.  Christine Baranski and Julie Walters are back as Donna's best friends, Tanya and Rosie, who are here to give Sophie emotional support leading up to the big day, and they get some big laughs with some of their one liners and personal exchanges.  There is also a small but very funny role for British Iranian comedian Omid Djalili as a man who stamps passports, but can't help but be critical of people's appearances based on their passport photos.  And of course, there are the songs, which are once again a jukebox of random ABBA songs.  Your feelings for the music will undoubtedly be connected with how you feel about the 70s super group.  I'm kind of mixed on them myself - They've done some catchy stuff I've enjoyed, and others I'm not so fond of.  The sequel is mostly made up of the songs I don't mind.

Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again knows what kind of movie it is, and as long as you do as well and don't mind an overflow of cornball romance and musical dance numbers, you can enjoy.  I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would, so maybe you will also.  Still, I won't argue with the people who think the movie is mindless and unnecessary, because it certainly is.  But it's also a lot of fun.

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