“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is the sequel – and prequel – to 2008’s “Mamma Mia!”, the screen adaptation of the Broadway musical phenomenon, based on the iconic Abba songs. “Here We Go Again” is a new, complex and more mature story involving the characters we’ve known, and sung/danced along with for the past decade.
Writer/director Ol Parker (who penned “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” movies) quickly establishes the parallel stories. Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is re-opening the hotel her mom Donna (Meryl Streep) ran. Donna died the previous year (this isn’t really isn’t a spoiler since it’s implied in the marketing). In her mom’s honor, Sophie has renovated the place and is ready for a big celebration, with nearly every important person in her life invited, including Sam (Pierce Brosnan) and Donna’s Dynamo sisters Tanya and Rosie (Christine Baranski and Julie Walters).
As Sophie faces party-planning challenges, we’re introduced to the world of a young Donna (played by Lily James, one of Hollywood’s current “It” girls). “Here We Go Again” explores the vibrant, spontaneous and contemplative Donna as she seeks an adventurous life. She also meets the three men who will play major roles in it.
If you’re a fan of the first “Mamma Mia!” movie, or the Broadway show, or both, then “Here We Go Again” will be your movie event of the year. It’s a dazzling, jam-packed, two-hour rollercoaster ride. There are at least a dozen songs, performed in their entirety, with minimal dialogue and story progression in between.
And it’s Parker’s vision, from Donna’s big open (“When I Kissed the Teacher”) to the heartfelt finale (more on that in a bit) that makes it all work. His direction is distinct and fun – taking every opportunity to play with the visuals and the transitions – making the duets just as fascinating and mesmerizing as the elaborate, finely-choreographed production numbers with hundreds of cast members.
They say – in the world of television – that if an on-air personality smiles while talking into the camera, the audience at home will smile too. Every single person in “Here We Go Again” looks like they’re having fun, and that happiness is palpable. This film provides a carefree, yet meaningful energy that’s so hard to find these days, even in musicals. I got chills during performances of staples “Mamma Mia!” and “Dancing Queen”, though those are saved ’til later, as some of Abba’s lesser known hits dominate the first half.
It would take more space than I have hereto touch on every performance. So I’ll just highlight a few. With this turn as Donna, James is now officially a STAR. In one simple, minute-long scene, Brosnan redeems himself for his singing abilities (or lack thereof) in the original. And with a silk white wig (and pantsuit to match), Cher makes a grand entrance in the final act as Sophie’s grandma… and instantly captivates the screen.
Sure, this second “Mamma Mia!” isn’t perfect. With so many songs jammed together, some minor elements do feel rushed and a tad goofy (for some reason Stellan Skarsgard’s Bill is given a twin brother). And the cause of Donna’s death is not revealed, which diehards will find distracting.
I was hoping Parker (whose second “Marigold Hotel” film was a poignant reflection on life), and co-story developer Richard Curtis (whose “Love, Actually” warmly connected generations) could magically produce a similar emotional punch with “Here We Go Again”. Instead, they’ve combined to top themselves. The beautiful final scene has a spirit all to its own, touching on loss and new life in ways that will hit very close to home. I do, I do, I do, I do, I do want you to see this film.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” gets a B+.
Running Time: 114 min.