Review from the Movie Theatre: Mamma Mia! – Here We Go Again

Released: July 2018.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again is predictably fun, light-hearted viewing but it’s also surprisingly moving as the story takes a new direction without the central star of the first movie, Donna Sheridan. The movie is based on the original musical by Catherine Johnson (originally conceived by Judy Cramer) with story by Richard Curtis, Ol Parker and Catherine Johnson. In this sequel-come-prequel from screenwriter and Director Ol Parker, Donna (Meryl Streep) has departed but daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is working her nails to the bone to create a lasting legacy: completing Donna’s dream hotel in the house on the hill. Alongside this narrative in the present, the film intertwines flashbacks to enlighten us as to how it all began; we see a young Donna graduate high school and head for the Greek islands, meeting her three potential baby-daddies along the way. The film is very well crafted and doesn’t fall into the trap of making the flashbacks intrusive or unwelcome within the present day action, instead making both narrative threads worthwhile and making us look forward to the moments where we are given more insight into the life of young Donna.7974c8ab-5fb7-471f-94a5-84fc5bdc20d8.pngThe music of ABBA of course embellishes, adorns, leads and drives the story here and music from Benny Andersson and Biörn Ulvaeus (score by Anne Dudley) is the perfect accompaniment to the story each step of the way. A few songs are repeated from the original: Mamma Mia (obviously…) and Take a Chance on Me which are taken on by new voices and only a few songs are evidently shoe-horned in, such as Cher’s character falling for a man named Fernando (Andy Garcia)…which ties her to the song with very little narrative padding – but it’s a great rendition and a funny moment, so there’s no griping here. The musical sequences are full of fun and colour, with the ensemble choreography full of energy and joy while the momentary comic moments from ensemble characters make a welcome return after being such a hit in the first movie. Robert D. Yeoman’s cinematography is gorgeous and celebrates all the colours and tones of Greece as much as the vibrancy of the characters and the performances on display. Set decoration from Dominic Capon teams up with costume designs from Michele Clapton and the natural beauty of Greece to create joyful visuals leaving no colour of the rainbow untapped – this is a movie of bright colours, big sounds and bold performances.210e1bf2-6ec0-47c3-9c63-97052e0de92d.pngIt’s in the back story that most of the joy of this movie is found and Lily James is an absolutely fantastic choice for young Donna. James’ performance touches on the gritty independence of Streep’s Donna characterisation but takes pains to portray a new, more playful side to the character as we see her as a fearless, outrageous youngster who takes endless chances, trusts strangers absolutely and gets herself entangled in love affairs because she’s just too full of life to pass up opportunities to experience new delights whenever the opportunity arises. James also has a great voice which is capable of both big notes and gentler sounds in her more vulnerable moments. In the back story scenes, we also see young Donna with the pals we grew to love in the first movie. Alexa Davies channels Julie Walters’ distinctive charm as Young Rosie and you couldn’t find a better young double for Christine Baranski’s Tanya than Jessica Keenan Wynn if you tried – she has the sardonic monotone nailed within sixty seconds and she’s an uncanny visual match to boot.3949af9e-6bd6-429e-96c9-0074688ffa57.pngThe males are more difficult to match up, but that’s more to do with aesthetics and the depictions of the young men as distinctly different and immature versions of their adult, fully upright selves. Hugh Skinner is a fresh faced Young Harry with a winning bashfulness – he’s probably the most likeable of young Donna’s love interests because of his endearing lack of confidence and comical lines. Josh Dylan makes a mischievous young Bill with a twinkle in his eye and a seductive confidence with the great outdoors. Dylan’s performance gives Bill a  flair for falling for women in the blink of an eye and his persistence is thankfully more entertaining than leering. Young Sam is played by Jeremy Irvine whose narrative is more meaningful and developed than the other love interests, who are allocated more playful musical numbers while the creators take care to develop a stronger bond between Young Donna and the strapping lad who broke her heart…then wed her thirty years down the line in movie one.40118bb7-dcb9-464b-9040-0579645f1359.pngThere’s plenty of fun and laughter in the present day scenes thanks primarily to Julie Walters and Christine Baranski’s characters keeping Sophie anchored during an emotionally charged time. Baranski lands some of the funniest lines in the whole movie while Julie Walters’ performance captures the raw, pathetic emotions of all Meryl fans during the realisation that the character really is gone…and her classic physical comedy steals a fair few scenes. Stellan Skarsgård makes a great comic impact here as he returns as Bill but also takes a turn as Bill’s overweight and over-sharing twin Kurt. Another highlight featuring Skarsgård is the development of the romance between Bill and Rosie (Walters) in the first film; the pair share decidedly more dramatic scenes before heading straight back to comic ground. Cher’s appearance as grandmother Ruby arrives rather late on, but in true Cher fashion, it’s a performance which makes a lasting impression and the film is all the better off for having Cher belting out a few ABBA hits. Cameos are impressive too, with Celia Imrie offering up a hilarious performance as stuffy Scottish Vice Chancellor and Omid Djalili amuses as the know it all and over-opinionated Greek Official who has never quite grasped the skill of tact.7bc53ddc-943b-48db-89eb-917eba367ebe.pngBut the present day narrative takes us down unexpectedly poignant routes as we see Donna’s face looking down on the action from pride of place on the wall and the frequent match shots and parallels with the first movie tug at the heartstrings when you least expect it; Sophie collects her mum’s pals in the same car her mother used for the exact same errand – the same routes are used via vehicle and on foot to mirror times of celebration which once centred around Donna; the staircase scenes bring sad smiles as we remember visions of Donna and co sliding down them in movie one to seeing in this movie the young Donna doing this for the first time and later, Sophie and her mother’s friends sharing a moment in the same spot. There are also frequent mirror images of young Donna discovering the house for the first time which provide expert continuity – the attention to detail with this approach is incredibly impressive, and the poignant, impactful effect on the film as a whole is unmistakeable. It’s all very beautifully and skilfully done – yes, the movie celebrates the dramatics and flair associated with big budget musicals, but the cheesiness is restricted to the upbeat, while the moments intended to move do exactly that. The ending is very moving as Meryl Streep finds her way back on screen for one final emotional musical number but in true Mamma Mia style, the tears are replaced with smiles and tapping toes as we are launched into the real finale of a musical medley featuring the whole cast, leaving us with a feel-good elixir to heal our broken hearts.9005f142-39d6-4018-be84-72efe8bc4685.pngI’ll be honest, rating a movie which foolishly kills off a Meryl Streep character – particularly such a lovable and pivotal Streep character – this highly betrays my Meryl-adoring bones, but this movie is so well crafted that I’m left with little choice! I maintain that the movie would be a knockout with Streep donning Donna again in the present day narrative and I can’t quite fathom why that wasn’t the case here BUT there are great performances from a strong cast which are both fun and moving, while the movie works damn hard to make this film as joyous and entertaining as the first. Does it match up or surpass the original? No, not quite – but it’s a great feel-good summer movie to watch with a Pimms in hand. And let’s face it, throwing in a few scenes in which Meryl Streep could appear to somewhat plug the gaping hole left by her was a great parting shot too…

 

Disclaimer: I own no images (obviously!) All image credits go to the Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again team…

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