Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again (***) but why, exactly?

mamma-mia-hwga

Mamma Mia – Here We Go Again – 2018

Director Ol Parker
Screenplay Ol Parker, based on the story by Parker, Richard Curtis, Catherine Johnson
Starring  Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Dominic Cooper, Lily James, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Andy García, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Cher, Meryl Streep, Hugh Skinner, Josh Dylan, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Alexa Davies, Jeremy Irvine

The first question when one ponders the story that plays out at the end of Mamma Mia, we want to know what happens to Donna and Sam (Streep and Brosnan), maybe Sophie and Sky (Seyfried and Cooper), with a dash of everyone else. Maybe we’d see what comes along for the next generation.

When the second story starts, Donna has been dead for a year, they remodeled her hotel with a staff of at least 100 and Sky is New York, not wanting to come back. Sam is on the shelf. The other two dads can’t come visit their “daughter” for the grand opening. She doesn’t even bother to invite her Grandmother, who is barely mentioned at all in the first movie.

Sounds like as good a premise as any to go back to 1979, the day young Donna (James) graduated college, with her mother (Cher) a no show. This doesn’t stop her from doing a showstopping version of a nonsensical song When I Kissed The Teacher with a young version of her friends the Dynamos. Soon after, she’s on her way across the world to Kalokairi, Greece and the Island, from where she will spend the majority of her life singing, traipsing and pining.

Get ready for Non-Sequitur, the Movie.

Along the way, we get to see another version of the story so well condensed in the first film. She meets each of the younger versions of Harry, Bill and Sam and dot, dot, dot.

The rest of the film intersperses between the past and the present. There is some forced dramatic tension in Sophia’s story line. It gets to the point where one wants to scream at the characters to get on with their faux crises and start singing already.

The singing is where the film succeeds. Lily James does a good version of Donna. Indeed, her voice is the best of the cast for either film, and that is saying something, actually. Her performance brings life to the story that is only marginally there for the scenes she does not inhabit. Seeing how she comes across her new home, the horse that lives in the basement and the her daughter’s namesake is enjoyable.

The film starts gathering steam in the last 1/3. It’s hard to screw up a scene with Dancing Queen in it, and Parker knows how to bring it.

Cher’s presence, like the film, ultimately is unnecessary. It’s unsettling seeing her sing, or even talk in what is a severely reconstructed face. How she is a direct ancestor to Streep given her age or the obvious differences in their apparent heritage is a mystery. All of this assuaged, interestingly, the moment she starts singing to her paramour, Garcia (an obvious decade younger). The number works, goofy as it comes across. We’re here for the songs, not for common sense.

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Streep is here, for one quite touching song. If I told you the rest of the film misses her presence, I’d be lying. Wondering why she didn’t feature more in the film, word has it that the idea came from Producer Richard Curtis’ daughter Scarlett to make this a Godfather II lite prequel/sequel.

And here I thought it was because all the fans Streep might have gained from the first film may have fled due to her association with her “God” Harvey Weinstein. The tar from his scandal tarred showed her as complicit amidst her heaping of scorn on Trump for the same (supposed) sins. I know my family grew tired of her over the last decade and her hypocrisy didn’t help win us over to her.

James does the character a fair tribute, though. This film succeeds largely due to her great impression of Streep’s original interpretation. Like the best retracings of characters, though, she paints enough outside the lines so we get to enjoy some amount of growth, even if we know where her story leads. Lily James deserves better than a sequel like this, even if she helps to elevate it to an above average film.

(*** out of *****)

 

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