Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
Bruce Steele: We come at Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again from different impressions of the original Mamma Mia! I’ve seen and enjoyed it at least four times, but I believe you were not a fan. Does the sequel shift your perspective?
Edwin Arnaudin: Not in wanting to revisit the original, but I had far more fun with its follow-up. Despite loving the Mamma Mia! cast and ABBA songs in general, I never got on its wavelength and wound up cringing throughout as people I like essentially made fools of themselves — and not in intentional, self-aware ways, either. The dual timelines of Here We Go Again help dilute that kitschy intensity, but I’m still only lukewarm on it.
Bruce: It’s interesting that what made you cringe at Mamma Mia! is what I think is the central appeal of the stage and screen phenom: Baby Boomers breaking out in beloved ABBA songs, a winning surrogate fantasy for audience members of a certain age. Pierce Brosnan aside (his singing is indeed cringe-worthy), the older half of the original movie cast seemed to be having a ball. Which is why I thought the dual timelines were kind of a drag for the first half of Here We Go Again.
Edwin: They no doubt had a blast, as did many, many viewers, but it didn’t translate for me, nor my open-minded, musical-loving sister, ex-wife and Boomer parents when we slogged through it a few years ago. Breaking up that concentrated formula with 22-year-old Donna (Lily James) on a voyage of self-discovery in late ‘70s Paris and Greece helps, though it’s a weak central conflict and, while frequently charming, the meet-cutes with her trio of potential baby daddies have a mandatory checklist quality to them.
Bruce: Donna’s three summer romances, in extended flashbacks, seemed forced to me. They had some charming twists, mostly watching young actors Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner and Josh Dylan working to evoke their older counterparts. But the musical numbers, even the big production numbers “When I Kissed the Teacher” and “Waterloo,” didn’t have the spark of the original, perhaps because they’re so remote from the main story line on the Greek Island. It wasn’t until the older cast members reassembled that I thought the movie hit its stride.
Edwin: More specifically, the return of fathers Bill (Stellan Skarsgård) and Harry (Colin Firth) — Brosnan’s Sam is already on site — to the grand opening of the hotel renovated by their daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried). Their wild entrance finally brings one of those big production numbers to the island and ushers in a giddy final act full of all-star exchanges and songs.
Bruce: Right. When in doubt, bring back “Dancing Queen”! Although I also enjoyed the number immediately before that: Donna’s pals (Christina Baranski and Julie Walters) goofing off while singing “Angel Eyes” with Sophie. The movie’s musical handicap, of course, is that most of the best-known ABBA songs already appeared in the first movie. Several of the lesser-known additions here, like “Teacher” and “Why Did It Have to Be Me?,” seem like filler. But the filmmakers do save one huge ABBA gold record, and one A-list cast member, for the finale.
Edwin: Walters awkwardly running around during the “Angel Eyes” number in search of handsome young men to lift her is a hoot. And I’m with you on the deep cuts not packing the sparkles of the Greatest Hits Vol. 1 selections, though their lyrics generally fit within the narrative and it was smart to place “Waterloo” early on. Do you think there are too many, not enough or just the right amount of encore songs from the first film?
Bruce: It would have been a bit shameless to repeat any more songs than they do here - by my count, six longer numbers, plus a couple snippets. But they make good use of most of the encores. And there’s one deep cut right at the end that hits with the same emotional impact Meryl Streep’s “The Winner Takes It All” had for me in the original.
Edwin: I’ve already scrubbed “Winner” from my memory and a YouTube refresher doesn’t help much. I suspect the final act selections in the sequel will linger longer, thanks in large part to that aforementioned A-lister — Cher, as Sophie’s estranged grandmother. Were you likewise happy to see her, even with many of her lines "spoiled" in the trailer?
Bruce: Cher was a perfect addition to this nostalgia-driven movie, and she’s got repeat value, so re-hearing her lines still made me happy. I also thought she was admirably restrained, for Cher: Over-the-top costume and hair, of course, but just a thin slice of ham. The other fun cast newbie, also served in small portions, was Andy Garcia, working his new career as a silver fox. Did you guess his “secret identity”?
Edwin: I figured he had to be more than just the friendly hotel manager, but didn’t quite put all of the pieces together. Fresh off seducing Diane Keaton in the entertaining Book Club, he again milks his charisma to amusing ends, and I’m with you on Cher being practically perfect casting. Even though she’s just three years older than Streep, who better to play that part?
Bruce: Exactly. A cameo by Celia Imrie — from the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies, both of whom were written by Ol Parker, director and co-writer here — is a little less inspired, but worth a smile. And it’s no secret that Streep herself shows up briefly, to the audience’s extreme delight. Then, as before, it all end in a raucous cast party during the credits, in this case happily blending timelines. There’s even a Marvel-worthy tag scene that viewers must stick around to see.
Edwin: It’s no Captain America, but certainly an inspired choice (and seemingly ad-libbed). And yes, the curtain call is indeed raucous and one I was happy to see (and not merely for the damn thing being over, as was the case with the series predecessor). The joys of the final 20-plus minutes and scattered smiles throughout bring it to a C-plus for me, which is way higher than I expected.
Bruce: Heavens! I hate to think what grade you gave the original, which was a solid A-minus from me. This one sputters for its first half and has no real plot to speak of, other than rehash, but you’re right that the last act brings it on. Writer-director Parker has yet to show any real flair beyond his first Marigold screenplay, but ABBA and the cast eventually rescue him here. It reached B status for me.
Grade: B-minus. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande, Carolina Cinemark and Grail Moviehouse
(Photos: Universal Pictures)