“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” (PG-13) is the sequel to “Mamma Mia,” the 2008 movie that was based on the 1999 Broadway hit which is based on songs by the 1970s’ Swedish pop band ABBA. In the original, we met Donna (Meryl Streep) and her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) who live on a gorgeous Greek Island. Sophie, 20, is getting married and invites the three men who could be her father, Bill (Stellan Skarsgard), Harry (Colin Firth) and Sam (Pierce Brosnan), without informing her mom. This could have been very awkward if everyone didn’t break into ABBA songs every five minutes. We don’t find out who actually is her real dad, because three dads are better than one. Sophie doesn’t even get married, but Donna and Sam do. Throw in Christine Baranski and Julie Walters as Donna’s long-time friends and the movie’s comic relief, Tanya and Rosie, and you have yourself a fun time at the movies.
Fast forward five years in movie time and 10 years in real time, and Sophie has just finished renovating her mother’s hotel and invites her three dads and assorted other characters from the first film to the grand opening party. But this movie is a sequel and a prequel, because now we’re back in 1979, where young Donna is arriving late to her college graduation, singing “I Kissed the Teacher” which is apparently an ABBA song I missed. Lily James plays young Donna as a happy, wacky, free spirit, who heads to Paris and then Greece, where she meets those three charming young men. Can I just say, that I traveled around Europe as a younger woman, and it took me two months to meet a poor Australian surfer with a VW bus, so Donna is pretty lucky.
The movie goes back and forth between Donna’s flirtations and adventures, and grown-up Sophie. We also get to see Donna’s friendship with the young versions of Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and Rosie (Alexa Davis) complete with platform boots and sparkly jumpsuits. There’s plenty of energy, humor, wistful glances, gorgeous scenery and song and dance numbers.
And about those songs, while the first Mamma Mia! scooped up the best songs, “Here We Go Again,” wisely repeats hits “Dancing Queen,” and “Waterloo” and of course, “Mamma Mia,” adding others like “One of Us,” “Angel Eyes” and “My Love, My Life.” Yeah, I don’t know them either and there’s a reason they weren’t big hits.
The actors are all delightful. Everyone seems to be having a good time. James has a strong voice and is believable as a young Streep. The young suitors capture their older characters’ spirits and are exceptionally easy on the eyes. The older men don’t have much to do, but if you recall from the first film, they aren’t exactly song and dance men. Streep, who had the strongest voice, does show up late in the film, and it’s a lovely scene.
Now, forgive me for just one minute while I kvetch a bit. I know this is a silly, escapist popcorn movie, but I wish writer/director Ol Parker had paid a bit more attention to the timeline. Since he wrote both Marigold Hotel movies, he does have some experience here. The story rearranges plot points established in the first film and I’m sorry but if Sophie is 25, the other characters have to be in their late 40s and the only one close to that age is Firth.
And then there’s Cher, who literally flies in at about the 90-minute mark. She’s Sophie’s grandmother, which means she’s Donna’s mother (Cher is just three years older than Streep). In the first movie Donna’s mother is described as repressed and judgmental, and oh yeah, dead. In “Her We Go Again,” she’s a glamorous Las Vegas singer. Now, I’ll never complain about Cher making a rare film appearance, but “GIVE HER SOMETHING TO DO.” She’s got one slow song and deserves better. Streep has even less screen time than Cher, showing up for an emotional ballad in the last minutes of the movie.
While “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” doesn’t have the zip or Streep of the original, it is a sunny alternative to all the action and science fiction movies that dominate the summer.
Here We Go Again 3 out of 5 stars