I can’t think of another recent movie title that serves as its own review. If you say it just right, you’ll get the idea: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.
Mind you, I enjoyed the screen adaptation of the ABBA show Mamma Mia! It had a highly attractive cast, representing two generations, a cornucopia of infectious songs, all imaginatively staged against a backdrop of gorgeous Greek scenery. It may not have been innovative or intellectual but it certainly was fun.
This one is a sequel/prequel, or more specifically a clone, with everything those words represent: repetition (both good and bad), an expanded younger cast and all the “mature” performers we saw last time around. Like so many screen follow-ups, this one coasts on the good will of its predecessor with less-than-inspired results.
Lily James plays a younger version of the Meryl Streep character from the initial story, falling in love with a beautiful Greek island and three handsome hunks who cross her path. In a parallel modern-day story, Amanda Seyfreid is Streep’s daughter, who is pregnant and determined to pay tribute to her mother by reopening her “dream” hotel on the island.
James dominates the first hour of the film, singing a selection of B-level ABBA tunes; in fact, the only rousing songs in this film are reprises of the Swedish group’s biggest hits (“Dancing Queen,” “Waterloo,” “Fernando”) that were also highlights of Movie No. One. James is beautiful and charismatic but always seems to be posing for the camera.
One by one, all the familiar characters from the first movie show up, uttering dialogue out of the Cliche Handbook and joining in song. But it doesn’t add up to much. The much-heralded arrival of Cher at the end is treated like the Second Coming, and the superstar gets to warble two songs, one with a surprise lover from her past, the other as a kind of curtain call for a film that doesn’t really have a finale. The highlight here is a lovely duet featuring the spirit of Meryl Streep joining her daughter, Seyfried, as the latter‘s baby is about to be christened.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again somehow required the services of three writers (Richard Curtis, director Ol Parker, and the Mamma Mia playwright Catherine Johnson). I hope they were well paid. The result is a visually appealing, thoroughly innocuous movie that you could safely take your grandmother to see. But I predict that it will have the staying power of Grease 2.