Beautiful vistas of the Greek islands, a charming story, and the brilliant songs of Swedish music icons ABBA. Though all three are seemingly quite different from each other, when put together a winning formula is surprisingly the result. Thus the joy of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, isn’t because of just one of the aforementioned elements, but the combination of all three. Like the original 2008 film, this musical is a delightfully lighthearted affair that will definitely leave most audiences with a good time at the movies.
As with the 1999 stage musical of the same name, the now two Mamma Mia! movies are not masterpieces of musical theatre or film by any means; but with its quirkiness, simple and goodhearted messaging and of course its music, it has shown a surprising amount of staying power. Sometimes we don’t necessarily need the heavyweights,but a nice little story about love in the Mediterranean with a terrific soundtrack.
Set five years after the events of the first film and with most of the major cast returning to their roles, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again functions both as a prequel and a sequel; alternating between the present day and the year 1979, the movie provides the backstory of the first film’s main character Donna. With unexpected adventures in Greece along with a pregnancy with an uncertain father, Donna never loses her love of life, a trait she has passed on to her now-grown daughter Sophie, who too seeks to make the most of life.
Originally played by Meryl Streep, the role of Donna now steps forward (or chronologically backward) in the hands of Lily James. As the younger version of the vivacious adventurer, she retains the effervescent spirit of the character that made audiences (and co-stars) fall in love with her in the first place. Opposite her is Amanda Seyfried as the adult Sophie, who like Streep and even more prominently like James, creates a touching portrait of a young woman trying to figure it all out.
Indeed the casting should be commended in particular for its ability to find very good actors for the roles of the younger versions of the main cast; Lily James is convincing enough as a “younger” Meryl Streep, but it is more so Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies in their roles as the younger Christine Baranski and Julie Walters respectively that indicate a very good eye from casting directors Nina Gold and Kathleen Chopin. It is very believable that the unrelated actors could age into their older counterparts, as is to a lesser extent the male suitors of Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard, and Colin Firth.
Though it has its moments of campiness and unrealistic dance sequences and scenarios, everything is done with great fun and sentiment. This movie understands its role; it exists to entertain, bring some laughter and ultimately a smile to one’s face with the great melodic backing, not to be seen as a serious musical with profound morals. This is a brisk two-hour diversion that seeks to charms and it does its job. For critics looking for a more sophisticated musical, Les Miserables, West Side Story and others will always be waiting.
As for the music, it is very safe to say that of the three constituent elements previously discussed, it is surely the one that is the most important. There’s plenty of other good sweet stories in cinema with beautiful landscapes, but they’re not often paired with the sounds of one of the greatest pop groups in history.
The songs of ABBA continue to be revered around the world nearly 40 years since the group’s breakup, and much of Mamma Mia’s! success (the stage show and the films) is pinned on the shoulders of the band’s wondrous musical catalog. If Mamma Mia! retained the same story but had an original score composed, it’s possible it may have flopped. But with ABBA’s music, this story of a young girl and her youthful escapades was elevated to the next level.
Once again as in the first film, Here We Go Again has compiled a number of ABBA’s hits and molded them to fit the narrative. Songs of break up (Knowing Me, Knowing You), regret (One of Us) and euphoria (Dancing Queen) are chosen well, where the astute lyrical meaning really shines. Hearing these songs in the context in which their lyrics refer to further highlight the genius of the songwriting team of Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson (look out for their cameos in the film). Even the orchestrations of the songs often played with Greek instrumentation is wonderful to listen to.
As for the singing voices they are as pleasant as can be expected from non-professional singers; Lily James carries a tune well enough as does Amanda Seyfried and Meryl Streep. If one wants to hear trained voices, the Broadway show is always available. But with ABBA’s widespread popular appeal, hearing these songs sung by ordinary folk (including moviegoers in the theatre) gives audiences another reason to connect with it. Of course one can’t forget to speak of the legendary Cher, whose rendition of Fernando will be sure to please old and new fans alike.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again adds nothing new to the formula set out by the 2008 film, rather it continues with all the elements that made the first film a success. A combination of beautiful imagery and a sweet storyline with tremendous pop classics has enabled it to succeed in its goal: to entertain. This isn’t a Rodgers and Hammerstein masterwork with a deeper intellectual meaning. but a charming, sentimental and lighthearted affair.
With the aid of the brilliance of ABBA and their music, this movie makes people want to sing, dance and just be happy, and with all the negativity in the world, don’t we deserve to forget about the bad stuff for a while? It’s not perfect, it’s not a masterpiece, but for making people smile we know it has done at least one thing right.
Review: Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again
Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again is a lighthearted fun musical and with everything happening in the world right now, it is exactly what we need.