Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again Review: Better This Time Around
A better film than the original, with a stellar performance from Lily James
The second instalment of Mamma Mia! could not have come at a better time, so to speak. Amidst countless rumours of a reunion and tours over the years, ABBA recently confirmed that they will bring out new music and play live for the first time in over three decades. Though Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again misses the natural charm of Meryl Streep, it is a better film than its much-hyped predecessor. The upbeat tone that the musical attempted to encapsulate with ABBA’s timeless classics almost twenty years ago seemed more forced in part one than it does in the follow-up. The plot of Part 2 is not as overly sentimental and implausible as the original, with certain aspects of it being filled with half-decent humour.
The real standout of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is Lily James. Playing a young Donna Sheridan, she fits seamlessly into the role of a girl on the cusp of a life filled with adventure. Most musicals, if not all of them, rely heavily on the fantastical, on all the great possibilities out there despite the hurdles that present themselves. But once we take the singing and dancing away, how engaging is the story it attempts to recount? It is through James’ portrayal of a young Donna that we see all that is possible. Unlike Amanda Seyfried in the first film, Lily James does a far superior job of convincing us about the wonder that is life. The film may still be a bit simplistic on the whole but the plot (along with the music and dance, of course) is interesting enough. A case can be made as to why there was an adaptation of the musical, in the first place. When there is a sequel involved, all of ABBA’s iconic numbers are played on repeat. For those who aren’t admirers of the band, this may feel tedious. As for the die-hard fans, they are bound to forgive a sentimental story that rides on oodles of hope and possibility, and just say ‘Thank You For The Music.’
Director: Ol Parker
Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Lily James, Andy Garcia, Dominic Cooper, Julie Walters
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again presents two parallel stories: one follows Sophie Sheridan as she prepares to re-open Hotel Bella Donna in memory of her late mother, and the other digs into the past to explore a young Donna’s life, and how she ended up on the Greek island of Kalokairi. Sophie laments the fact that her two dads (Harry and Bill) and her partner, Sky, will not be able to make it to the grand opening of the hotel. But the spirit of her mother (whom all this is dedicated to) and the constant motivation from her third father, Sam, inspire her to prod on, regardless. Tanya and Rosie arrive shortly thereafter, and cheer up a morose Sophie.
In 1979, a class is about to graduate when Donna and her two Dynamos in Tanya and Rosie break into a spontaneous singing and dancing session set to When I Kissed the Teacher. Donna then sets off on a journey of a lifetime, leaving her teary-eyed friends behind. In Paris, she meets a shy banker by the name of Harry. Donna and Harry hit it off, with the latter professing his love for her instantly. Donna has other plans, though, and heads to Greece. When she misses the ferry to Kalokairi, she befriends Bill, a charismatic, blonde, and blue-eyed Swede. Already smitten, Bill agrees to take her to the island on his boat. After dropping her off, Bill promises to return. Once on the island, Donna makes friends with the locals, and is drawn to a dilapidated house. While exploring the abandoned structure on a stormy night, she sees a trapped horse agitated by the lightning. She manages to free the horse with the help of Sam. The two soon begin an impetuous romance, little realising that trouble is at the doorstep.
Between the two parallel storylines, it is painfully clear that the plot involving Donna’s younger self is the more engaging and exciting one. This is thanks almost entirely to Lily James, who, in my opinion (and despite the large star cast) carries the film on her shoulders. She embodies ABBA’s largely positive and hopeful outlook throughout, making the audience believe as much in her dreams and aspirations as she does herself. It goes without saying that the film has its cheesy moments, its ridiculously sentimental ones, and its ‘everything works out in the end’ punchline is presented in far too simplistic a manner. But for a film that incorporates a mega pop group’s starry-eyed vision of existence through the medium of song and dance, it does okay. And ABBA fans, don’t miss those cameos. Small they may be, but the memories associated with it are sure to teleport you to that unforgettable age of popular music.