For this casual, quasi-embarrassed ABBA fan, the 2008 movie musical Mamma Mia! was a guilty pleasure. It was fun to watch glamorous movie stars in a modern day musical, running around an exotic island, singing ABBA tunes and having a lot of fun. This sequel that nobody asked for is strictly for ABBA apologists and superfans. If you’re antsy to see cinema legends shake their butts while boogying to “Super Trouper,” then this is for you. For everyone else, there are dozens of ABBA-free movies currently playing.
Amanda Seyfried returns as Sophie Sheridan, who prepares for a massive get together with friends and family, and reminisces about her mother, Donna (formerly played by Meryl Streep, the role now goes to Lily James). The story goes back and forth between the reunion with Sophie’s three dads (played by Stellan Skarsgard, Pierce Brosnan, and Colin Firth) and the backstory of how young Donna wound up with three beaus in the first place.
Everyone from the prior film is back and some of the most popular songs are reprised, with some ABBA deep cuts. As much as I like this talented cast and ABBA, this isn’t a great musical. Like the prior film, it’s forced and occasionally awkward, as many in the cast can’t carry a tune or dance. While the scene transitions are stylish, the staging of the musical numbers is often sloppy. Also, because the filmmakers are pillaging the bottom of the ABBA songbook, standards like “Waterloo” mingle with truly terrible songs like “When I Kissed the Teacher.” My all-time favorite ABBA tune, “One Of Us,” comes early but is presented as a duet between Seyfried, who has a gorgeous voice, and Dominic Cooper, who can’t sing.
Seyfried, the breakout star of the first film, is once again luminous. The charismatic James gives a robust turn, though she looks nothing like a young Meryl Streep. As good as Seyfried and James are, I missed Streep, who grounded the first film. Streep pops up here only once, in the last scene, then has possibly the clumsiest exit in cinematic history.
Then there’s Cher, who enters the film late as Sophie’s grandmother; the movie knows it has a huge icon but doesn’t give her enough space to properly steal the movie. Cher’s first big number has her standing on a balcony, slowly walking down a flight of stairs – it’s as exciting as watching Cher descend on an escalator. I may be a mild enthusiast of ABBA but I’m a huge Cher fan – there was a point in time when she was a major dramatic and comedic actress. I hate how this Oscar-winning, powerhouse performer has of late been stuck appearing in camp like this and Burlesque.
As for Brosnan, Firth, and Skarsgard, they constantly stand next to one another, smile incessantly and look like they can’t wait to get their paychecks and bolt.
While the issue of motherhood provides a warm center, none of this is insightful or goes anywhere. It plays like the giddy, carefree fantasy that it ultimately is.
My own ABBA-related fantasy is that, rather than form a needless trilogy, the filmmakers will instead consider adapting the magnificent, timely USA-Russia espionage musical thriller, CHESS, which played on Broadway and was created by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus. We need a movie musical of that caliber. We don’t need to provide another opportunity for Streep to sing “Chiquitita.”
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is like an ABBA song: its joyous and bouncy but, the moment it ends, you long for something with substance.
Rated PG-13/114 min.