FILM REVIEW: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Writer and Director: Ol Parker

Songs: Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus

Reviewer: Stephen Bates

Our wonderful Summer has just got even sunnier. It’s time to forget about high art and think about guilty pleasures, time to take another trip back musically to an era of dancing queens and disco kings, time to take in the warm sea breezes and bask under the cloudless skies of the idyllic Greek islands, time for unashamed escapism.

The 2008 film version of the long-running stage show Mamma Mia!, which celebrates the songs of ABBA, broke UK box office records. More recently, The Greatest Showman, which transcended poor reviews, has been a huge hit, suggesting that the appetite of British cinema goers for film musicals has not diminished. With these facts in mind, the creators of this new film, which is part-sequel and part prequel, did not really need to work too hard to make it a hit, so the pleasant surprise is that they have done such a good job in making it as least as enjoyable as its predecessor. Largely, this is due to a screenplay by writer/director Ol Parker which bristles with witty lines and a clever storyline, developed by Parker with original writer Catherine Johnson and the master of romantic comedy, Richard Curtis.

Precise casting matches familiar character with their younger selves and makes the jumps backwards and forwards in time feel effortless. We join the story with Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) planning to re-launch the Hotel Bella Donna, with her mother Donna (Meryl Streep) now gone and her husband Sky (Dominic Cooper) planning to further his career in New York. As no one seems to have suggested DNA testing during the course of the last decade, she remains the girl with three fathers – Sam (Pierce Brosnan/Jeremy Irvine), Harry (Colin Firth/Hugh Skinner) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård/Josh Dylan).

The film takes us back to when the young Donna (Lily James) receives her degree from her Vice Chancellor (Celia Imrie) and heads straight for Greece, stopping only to be bedded by three strangers en route and arriving pregnant. The word “slut” would not be suitable for a film like this, not even if spoken by Donna’s best friends Tanya (Christine Baranski/Jessica Keenan Wynn) and Rosie (Julie Walters/Alexa Davies), who give us two memorable comedy double acts for the price of one. Watch out for the Abba men Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus doing a Hitchcock with non-speaking cameo appearances and Omid Djalili as a ticket seller (he makes it worthwhile hanging on until after the end credits).

If you always wanted to experience Will from BBC’s W1A (Skinner) singing Waterloo, this is the place to come. Brosnan exercises his vocal chords a little less than last time, managing only to whisper a single verse of, appropriately, SOS. Some of the songs reprise those in the last film, others are lesser-known Abba album tracks, but all are sung and choreographed with verve, some in Busby Berkeley style, including a bobbing armada of pleasure boats for Dancing Queen.

The big name addition is Cher, an Oscar winner who has done a bit of singing in her life. Resplendent in a platinum blonde wig, she is Ruby, Sophie’s long-lost grandmother, who steps down from her helicopter and dispenses the uplifting advice “being a grudge holder makes you fat”. Glancing sideways, she spots an old flame, the hotel manager who happens to be named Fernando (Andy Garcia). Cue a duet. If we take the lyrics of Fernando completely seriously, this pair fought side-by-side in a mid-19th Century North American war, but the sequence is so deliciously kitsch that taking anything seriously is the last thing on our minds.

Reviving a formula that pulls of the seemingly impossible trick of being both sincere and tongue-in-cheek throughout, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again mixes an intoxicating cocktail of sun, sea, songs and superstars. How can we resist it?

Cinema release from 20 July 2018 | Image: Contributed

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