Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Posted: August 7, 2018 in Film reviews
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Directed by Ol Parker.  Starring. Christine Baranski, Pierce Brosnan, Dominic Cooper, Colin Firth, Andy García, Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Stellan Skarsgård, Julie Walters, Cher and Meryl Streep.

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“Join us, join us, JOIN US!”

Many years have passed since Sophie Sheridan (Seyfried) discovered that her father was one of three men and invited them to the Greek island where she lived with her mother Donna (Streep). Now Sophie wants to reopen the hotel in honour of her mother, but she’s unhappy that two of her dads, Harry (Firth) and Bill (Skarsgård) can’t attend, and nor can her partner Sky (Cooper) who’s in New York. Her third father, Sam (Brosnan) will be there, but when a storm hits the island the whole reopening looks like it could fail.

Back in 1979 we follow the young Donna (James) as she leaves University and heads out to see the world, beginning in Paris where she meets a young Harry, before moving onto Greece where her path crosses that of both Bill and Sam.

As past and future increasingly mirror one another the stage is set for heartbreak and joy in equal measure. As the song says, here we go again.

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I unashamedly love Mama Mia. I can see all its faults, it’s cheesy and yes some of the cast aren’t the world’s greatest singers (I’m looking at you 007) but its joyful exuberance, married to Abba’s fantastic songs, and a first rate cast papered over any cracks there may have been.

Given its phenomenal success a sequel was always on the cards, but credit to the producers for waiting until they felt they had a story to tell, and kudos for deciding to go all Godfather 2 with a sequel that’s also a prequel, and the result is all kinds of wonderful, just not necessarily for the reasons the first one succeeded. For all that they’re cut from the same cloth these are two very different films, and again credit has to go to everyone involved in the production for not just giving us more of the same.

The film opens with characters dealing with a tragedy that happened a year before, and a sense of melancholia hangs over the whole film, and whilst it’s clearly a feel-good story, it’s also sad at times. Very sad.

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Hey I recognize those dungarees!

If the film relies on the return of familiar characters and situations, at its heart is something new, namely Lily James as the young Donna, and it’s no exaggeration to suggest that it’s James’ performance that makes the film. While everyone else always seems to have someone to bounce off, often its Donna who’s left alone, foreshadowing what we know will happen, that she’ll raise Sophie alone as a single mother, and its credit to James that she never allows Donna to be a character we pity, only one we empathise with and root for. Plus she’s a great song and dance woman which helps enormously.

In the present it’s Seyfried who holds the film together, albeit with able support of some wonderful actors. I’d happily watch an entire trilogy based around the adventures of Christine Baranski and Julie Walters, who once again threaten to steal the show, and Firth, Brosnan and Skarsgård imbue Harry, Sam and Bill with so much warmth you kinda wish they were your dads too.

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The actors playing the other younger characters all do a good job, some more than others, but special mention to Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies essaying the young Baranski and Walters.

In the scene stealing category there’s Omid Djalili with an amusing recurring cameo of a customs officer (and please, please, please stay till the end of the credits.) and of course the iconic introduction of Cher as Donna mum, not the greatest actor but damn that woman can still belt out a tune.

Which brings us to the music, which is of course ever present. This is perhaps a harder soundtrack to get into, certainly for me because there were more unfamiliar songs this time around, but there’s still plenty of familiar music, and the script is peppered with witty one liners, one of Baranski’s lines is practically worth the price of admission alone.

Beyond the cast, the music and the script, I’d like to talk about the direction, because this was almost the element that impressed me most. Part of Mama Mia’s charm was its slightly DIY construction much like Brosnan’s singing (sorry Pierce) it didn’t matter if the film looked a little creaky at times. By contrast Here we go Again is on another level technically, and I was amazed at just how well put together this was, the transitions between past and present are breathtakingly well constructed, I mean we’re talking Oscar worthy here, and quite frankly if it’d come out later in the year, and could have avoided the near certain snobbery, I see no reason this couldn’t have garnered an Oscar nod or two. Yes, it’s that good.

Mamma-Mia-2-Poster-.pngGorgeous to look at, wonderful to listen to, and with a life affirming central message around motherhood this is, as I stressed, not always an easy watch, and in the end this isn’t a film that tugs on your heartstrings so much as one that rips them from your chest and shows them to you, and I can’t deny that I may have shed a tear or two at one climatic moment that just manages to stay the right side of overly sentimental.

It’s hard to say if this is better or worse then the first film, because they are so different. On the downside as I’ve said the soundtrack isn’t quite as familiar, and the duel nature of the plot does mean we only get extended cameos from certain actors, and maybe it isn’t quite the surprise the first one was. Plus knowing it wasn’t filmed in Greece is a trifle annoying…

But overall this is a far, far better film than it has any right to be, and I for one can’t wait to see it again. Will we ever get Mama Mia 3? Hard to tell, but frankly the bar’s set so high now it can surely only disappoint.

Highly recommended.

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Cherly you can’t be serious, Paul? I am serious, and don’t call me Cherly!

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