You know how every so often Film Twitter will get into these discussions about what’s the best movie of all time vs. what’s your favorite movie of all time? Those are vastly different things. The former is an attempt at objectivity, at viewing the component parts of a film and how they add up to a technically marvelous or keenly acted or well-written whole. The latter is deeply personal, all about who you are and what you respond to in particular. And there’s no doubt in my mind that Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again belongs, joyously and amusingly, in that “favorites” category.
I’m not an ABBA person! Or even really a Cher person! I only saw the first Mamma Mia! film on Monday night! Sometimes I think Meryl Streep is really good but kind of overrated! (Remember when she received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Florence Foster Jenkins, and Amy Adams didn’t for Arrival? I WILL BE BITTER ABOUT THIS FOREVER.) But Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is infectious and fun and not attempting to be anything other than purely itself, a romantic comedy with a lot of songs, metallic platform boots, and aqua blue architectural accents. People hook up and fall in love and form deep relationships that last for decades. No one really judges anyone else for their actions or their choices. The friendships are lifelong and the ’70s outfits are quite boho-chic. All the guys are pretty hot, including Daddy Andy Garcia. WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE?
Here We Go Again takes place in two different timelines. The first is 10 years after the original events in Mamma Mia!, with Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) having returned to the Greek island Kalokairi and devoted herself to rebuilding the villa, which was damaged at the end of the first film. While she works on elevating her childhood home, longtime partner Sky (Dominic Cooper) is in New York City, learning about high-end hotels and courting millionaire clients. Where they’ll settle down as a family is a common argument, and it’s a relationship that is still defined by love but burdened by real-life problems (cue the intercontinental duet “One of Us”!), especially as the grand opening of the villa approaches.
While Sophie, stepfather and potential biological father Sam (Pierce Brosnan), and her aunt-like figures Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters) reconnect, the story also jumps backward to 1979, when Donna (a game Lily James) graduates from university—showing up late to the ceremony and spinning her valedictorian speech into an energetic performance of “When I Kissed the Teacher” alongside Tanya and Rosie as the Dynamos, natch—and decides to travel the world. First is France, where she meets young Harry (Hugh Skinner, an awkwardly adorable match for adult Colin Firth); then there’s a boat captained by young Bill (a fine-as-hell Josh Dylan, who channels Stellan Skarsgård’s rakishness) from France to Greece; and finally there’s the island of Kalokairi itself, where she connects with young Sam (the open-faced Jeremy Irvine, who rebounds nicely here from the terribleness of Stonewall).
Each of the men sees something different in Donna: to Harry, she’s the first and only woman he’ll ever love; to Bill, she’s another addition to his long list of lovers; and to Sam, she might be his soulmate. But to filmmaker Ol Parker’s credit (he’s married to Pajiba favorite Thandie Newton!), he never changes Donna’s character to fit those men—it’s her energy, her zeal for life and her yearning to live simply but satisfyingly, that draws them in. “I have absolutely nothing mapped out,” she says, and whether in her overalls or onstage, Donna is spontaneous, spirited, and fierce. I don’t know if James is an exact match for Streep, but I think she’s game for whatever, and her confidence and exuberance are infectious.
Of all the ’70s-era performances, I loved “Waterloo” the most, with its French bistro setting, Skinner using a baguette as an air guitar, James whipping out a tablecloth to use as a cape, and the wait staff performing kicks and flips; that’s the kind of cinematic musical shit I am here for. And while the present-day storyline has one too many endings, the “Dancing Queen” performance is delightful. I eagerly await for gifs of Firth’s and Brosnan’s awkward dancing to hit the Internet. Oh, they already exist? OH, OKAY.
The musical performances are unfussy in their presentation, letting audience familiarity with the ABBA songs take center stage, and the editing effectively combines the two timelines by using certain locations as overlapping points in the narratives.
I was overjoyed to see Iranian actor Omid Djalili in a scene-stealing role as a cranky customs agent; Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies are flat-out perfect as young Tanya and young Rosie, respectively; and when Baranski says “Be still, my beating vagina” the first time she spots Daddy Andy Garcia, I almost died. (Actually, I laughed so loud that someone two seats down turned to frown at me, which they did again when I got a lot of joy out of a recurring gag with Rosie’s stress-eating relationship with cake.)
But Here We Go Again isn’t flawless: It takes a step forward by incorporating more Greek characters into the narrative yet a step backward with Firth’s Harry, who had a romantic partner by the end of the first film but whose bisexuality is never addressed here. Cher’s presence is a little disruptive; although the film is kind of tongue-in-cheek about her, you never forget that it’s Cher up there. And I’m sorry but Andy Garcia only seems to change his ascot ONCE and WHY WASN’T THERE A LARGER ASCOT BUDGET?
“What kind of island is this?” mutters young Rosie, and her question is answered in every scene of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. It’s goofy and earnest and sometimes melodramatic, and if you don’t like that kind of movie, you won’t like this one. But the beauty here is a place where friends are loyal and true, where family is more important than anything, where love is possible and plentiful at any age, and where a woman can have sex with three dudes pretty much within the span of 10 days and no one judges her for it and instead everyone lives happily ever after on their beautiful beachfront property with enough moussaka and baklava for everyone. Huzzah! Hooray! Inside Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is where I would like to live the rest of my life. When do I get my shiny lamé outfit?