Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Grab your beach towels and get ready to swing back into the glory days of ABBA’s greatest hits.
I’m talking about “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” a new follow-up to the Broadway smash that is still filling up theatres around the country. Considering I had just seen a production of “Mamma Mia!” a few weeks back, I wasn’t sure how ready I was for a sequel. Yet, in a summer moviegoing season overpopulated with big and dumb action extravaganzas or lousy superhero films - leave it to a campy, glossy, and bubbly musical to fill a void that was missing these last couple months.
Serving as a prelude and continuation of the original story: “Here We Go Again” brings back the original cast (with a pair of new faces) to help belt a laundry list of new ABBA favorites. Some you’ve heard in the original and others - brand new to the series. As the time-shifting narrative opens, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is hard at work on the Greek island of Kalokairi salvaging her late mother Donna’s mainstay hotel (while her name is plastered on the poster - Meryl Streep is mostly absent from this go-around, but, much to my surprise, it doesn’t hurt the overall giddiness of the pop-musical tunes). Meanwhile her new hubby Sky (Dominic Cooper) is back in the states contemplating a new job that could upend their marriage. The once happy couple is facing some friction.
While that plot foil seems a-bit contrived, what sort-of makes the trip to the Greek island worth our while, is focusing on a young Donna (played here by the very good Lily James - who can sing with the best of them) circa 1979 upon her exploits and how she came to meet all three suitors (Harry, Sam and Bill) who may or may not be Sophie’s father and how she ended up on the bright and pulpy island of Kalokairi. At first, it takes awhile for the mechanics of this story to mold into a grander picture (forcing some unnecessary and long exposition which keeps “Here We Go Again” from bursting out-of-the-gate.) Meaning: songs just manifest out of nowhere without any build-up or anticipation. And because it has to establish the different timelines, director Ol Parker struggles to sustain the run in the earlier scenes, which feel a bit thrown together.
When “Here We Go Again” finally starts to find its footing is towards the second act, when the older and wiser Harry (Colin Firth), Sam (Pierce Brosnan) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) grace the film with their whip-smart and lively screen presence. Considering the movie spends a great deal with their younger look-a-likes I was craving the real thing. Likewise for Christine Baranski and Julie Waters as Donna’s lifelong pals Tanya and Rosie who say outlandish and silly quotes that would only make sense coming from their mouths. One being: “Be still my beating vagina” which Baranski delivers with a straight face.
Eventually, the timelines collide and mesh at opportune moments in the musical’s foundation - and just when you think Parker’s film couldn’t feel more stuffed if it tried, ladies and gentlemen I give you Cher, making a late - but glamorous - entrance as Sophie’s grandmother. Which culminates in the perfect marriage of star power and nostalgia.
Glitzy stars aside, Parker stages his musical sequences with a dazzling and vibrant energy, (“Dancing Queen” is a full-blown stand-out) while some of the newer entries (“When I Kissed the Teacher“) find their place among the masses. Even when some of the characters (Sophie or Sky) get sidelined and don’t really grow as much as you’d want them too. Despite all of that, Parker’s film radiates with a pulpy 1950s color scheme, that make the visuals pop from all angles, making the fizziness go down very smoothly - like a vintage lollipop.
Hitting the reply button is always a tricky maneuver, and its hard to look at “Here We Go Again” as anything less than a film trying to cash in on the success of the beloved musical. But with a cast having this much fun - and one that looks good too, it’s seemingly hard to resist the urge to not indulge in the campy silliness. Suffice to say, I think this film was always going to satisfy ABBA fans galore, but what’s especially surprising about this flick - for those who aren’t “Mamma Mia!” enthusiasts - is how this is the summer movie we didn’t know we needed; a giant bag of sleaze, and hallmark goodness that makes me intrigued for a potential third “Mamma Mia!”