Meryl was dead: to begin with. And so, the ABBA jukebox is opened once more. Daft, yes. Nonsense, yes. Riotous fun? Absolutely. Mamma Mia! Here we go again…
It’s been ten years since our last Summer on the sun speckled island of Kalokairi. A decade since Mamma Mia – briefly – became the fastest selling DVD of all time in the UK. If you thought they’d run out of ABBA hits then think again. True, the showstopper songs are all repeats from the last film – Dancing Queen, Mamma Mia etc. – and the new ones are a mixed, B-side, bag – Andante, Andante? – but there’s no faulting the arrangements and choreography. With its cartwheeling waiters and Benny Andersson cameo, Hugh Skinner’s foppish Waterloo is impeccably done.
Set five years after its predecessor, Here We Go Again opens to find Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) still mourning the loss of her mother (Meryl Streep) the year before. Determined to live out her mother’s dreams, Sophie is preparing for the grand opening of her new hotel: the Bella Donna. Even with the happy event to come, however, things aren’t going well. Sophie’s relationship with Sky (Dominic Copper) has hit the rocks, two thirds of her dads can’t make the opening and she’s beginning to doubt her abilities. And that’s before a flash – approximately thirty second – storm has transformed Kalokairi into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Ooh and indeed heck.
It’s here that we flashback to 1979 and Donna’s (here Lily James – introduced golden boot first) graduation in Oxford. Balancing the absence of Streep, Here We Go Again devotes much of its run to paralleling flashbacks, buoyed to life by a crackling young cast. Whilst James continues her streak as one of this generation’s most delightful stars, her effervescence is matched by Skinner, Jeremy Irvine and Josh Dylan as the young Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgård respectively. Telling their own story as much as supporting the present day action, the flashbacks make for a plot that is more structurally satisfying than the first and, certainly, more emotional. It takes a hard heart not to invest in these characters.
Comparing the two Mamma Mia films back to back, neither especially stands high above the other. Here We Go Again takes longer to get going – and keeps going rather longer than necessary – but has a stronger backbone. Surely this is the work of Richard Curtis, who is among the film’s producers and helped shape its heart breaking and warming story. For every harassment Sophie and Donna suffer, a joyously uplifting scene waits around the corner. The moment a flotilla of bunting-lined boats arrives to the beat of Dancing Queen, each ship loaded with enthusiastic dancers, practically begs audiences to jump up and join in.
As before, the degree to which the film can be enjoyed thoroughly depends on an ability to switch off the brain. When not spouting cute aphorisms, the script papers over its cracks with continuous bursts into song. How else could Parker romanticise the story of a woman who has unprotected sex with three different men in little over a fortnight? In the present, Sophie is reminded that there is nothing she cannot achieve, whilst in the past Donna proves it. Gender dynamics confuse – men are hunky swines yet do have emotions under the brauva, whilst women are strong, independent yet are obsessed with men: ‘Be still my beating vagina’ – but it just about works.
If anything sums up the experience of watching Here We Go Again it is the cameo of Celia Imrie early in the film. Playing the Oxford Vice-Chancellor, Imrie is horrified when her prize student – Donna – bursts into a rendition of When I Kissed the Teacher but rapidly thaws as the song goes on. Within a minute, she’s burst into her own raucous solo for good measure. My, my, how can we resist this?