By Kim Hughes
Does a fizzy musical based on a fizzy stage production based on the songs of ABBA really cry out for an origin story?
That may be too deep a query for anyone approaching Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, the sequel to the hit 2008 film which posited that Pierce Brosnan could sing, Colin Firth could boogie, and Meryl Streep could do anything, especially in a Greek isle setting so bright you had to wear sunglasses in the theatre.
Here We Go Again picks up a few years after the surprise wedding of the first film. Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) has decided to remodel the inn as a tribute to Streep’s Donna (you read that right) and has invited the usual suspects — her dads (Firth and Stellan Skarsgård; Brosnan lives on-site), Donna’s besties Rosie and Tanya (Julie Walters, Christine Baranski) — to fête the swank reopening bash.
Sophie has pointedly not invited her estranged maternal grandmother but anyone who has seen the trailer has an inkling that she will show up anyway… and be played by Cher! Oh, the joy! Oh, the camp! Oh, the stunt casting! (Barbra Streisand could have aced this, too, possibly while looking steadier on her feet).
Not all is well with Sophie, however, and not just because she is remodelling the inn as a tribute to Donna. Sophie’s paramour Sky (Dominic Cooper) has been in New York and it turns out that working for a living while wearing closed-toe shoes ain’t half bad. Sky wants to stay Stateside.
Visions of past and future give way to a secondary (and prevailing) narrative which tells the story of how free-spirited Donna first ended up knocked up with Sophie on the island of Kalokairi. Flashback scenes winkingly mirror later ones: young Donna collecting her visiting pals on horseback, older Donna doing so by jeep, and so on.
Here the film takes some casting risks which mostly pay off, providing nice distraction from what is essential a rehash of the previous story with a bunch of newly conceived but largely same-old set pieces. Lily James plays the budding, saucy Donna opposite a triptych of hunks conjuring earlier versions of Brosnan, Firth and Skarsgård. All pull their parts off winningly, especially actors Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies who positively embody Young Tanya and Young Rosie right down to the flawless bangs.
Everyone sings. Joy and camp. Near the film’s end, Sophie discovers she’s pregnant, Cher shows up to reignite the sparkle in the downcast eyes of broken-hearted Andy Garcia — conveniently playing the hotel’s manager named Fernando… what are the chances?! — and then the big, extended song-and-dance sequence rolls over the credits. And yes, ABBA’s Benny and Björn fleetingly reappear.
It pays not to think too hard in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again or niggling questions will arise. Such as: Cher (age 72) is playing the mom to Meryl Streep (age 69)? Can you get that look using only injectable fillers or do you need the knife? Why is someone as restless as young Donna content to stay on the first (wildly underpopulated) island she lands on? And why is Streep’s once-pivotal role reduced to a cameo (actually, that question we can probably answer).
Then again, no one queues up for the Mamma Mia sequel to ask a bunch of dumb questions. This is a musical, kiddo, set in sparkly Greece. As a very wise man once intoned with maybe just a shred of irony, “ABBA is timeless.” Touché.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Directed by Ol Parker. Starring Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, and Cher. Opens wide July 20.