The Abba Musical Sequel is no Dancing Queen
DIRECTED BY OL PARKER/2018
While Mamma Mia! was a fun, Abba-filled, musical with an all-star cast, the sequel is the complete opposite. The original featured Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Stellen Skarsgard, Pierce Brosnon, Colin Firth, and Dominic Cooper. Seyfried played Sophie, a soon-to-be bride who begins to ask her mother Donna (Streep) about inviting her father. It turns out that Donna had sexual relationships with three different men in such a short time, she is unable to confirm who the father really is. It was either Bill (Skarsgard), Sam (Brosnon), or Harry (Firth). That film ended with all three taking the title of “Dad” in Sophie’s life, and Sam finally wedding Donna all of those years later, while Sophie ends up with a boy named Sky (Cooper).
The sequel comes ten years after the original and features a story really is just a retread of the original, proving itself to be nothing more than a reason to cash in on the original’s success. The Abba-inspired songs continue to work in the sequel, but Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again sidelines everything that works in the original film, including its returning cast.
If you were hoping for more fun with Sophie, Sky, Donna, Sam, Bill, and Harry, then be prepared for a bit of a let down. Here we Go Again trades in the fun for a much more melancholy story-line that divides the story into two distinct timelines. One is of Donna’s story as a young college graduate, striking out on her own. Played by Lily James (Baby Driver, Darkest Hour, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Cinderella), we see this young version of Donna as she encounters Harry (Hugh Skinner- Les Miserables), followed by Bill (Josh Dylan- Allied), and then Sam (Jeremy Irvine- War Horse). We also see her best friends Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn-The Girl on the Train (voice only) and Rosie (Alexa Davies- Absolutely Anything) supporting their friend.
Flowing in and out of this backstory/prequel time line is the sequel timeline of Sophie, as she tries to complete her mom’s dream of turning the island farmhouse into a successful hotel. She and Sky are falling on hard times, and only Sam is there to encourage her along, until the arrival of Tanya and Rosie, Bill, and Harry. There is also her hotel manager Fernando (Andy Garcia- Ocean’s Eleven, The Untouchables), who is a huge source of support, and we get to see Cher play Sophie’s Grandmother Ruby.
On the surface, and as presented in the trailer, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again looks to be a sure-fire hit, based on the built in audience and success of the original Mamma Mia! back in 2008. Unfortunately, Streep, Skarsgard, Brosnan, and Firth are largely regulated to what amounts to cameo roles, with Walters and Baranski getting slightly more screen time than that. The fun of the first film occasionally sneaks through and shines brightly whenever the original, returning cast are on screen and interacting with one another, but those moments are very few, and mainly saved towards the final third of the film, by which time you are ready to leave the theater no matter that you were promised in the title “Here We Go Again“. Instead of a fun return, the “Here We Go Again” becomes a line of extreme boredom that one might say, accompanied by an eye roll as the latest Abba song cues up while a newer cast goes through the motion of basically hitting the same story beats as the original film.
This is Ol Parker’s third directorial film, but he had more success as a writer with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and its sequel, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The film has beautiful cinematography given its location on a Greek Island in the Mediterranean Sea, but Parker is not able to utilize its setting to do anything special with the story. The transitions are occasionally abrupt and the intertwining timelines are often uneven as they flow back and forth from the past to the present. The story is by Parker, along with Catherine Johnson (who wrote the first film), and Richard Curtis, who has written some great films such as About Time, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Pirate Radio. Unfortunately, this film could have used Curtis’ direction and script, as Parker bears the responsibility of taking the story culled from all three and writing the script and directing the story from that. It is not a strong entry.
So, “you can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life”, but that would fit the original film more. You can “see that girl, watch that scene”, but really this sequel embodies the lyrics towards the end of Abba’s “Dancing Queen” when it says “you’re a teaser, you turn ’em on, leave ’em burning and then you’re gone”. Many people are going to go based on their love of the original, the cast, and the promise of the trailer for this film, but Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again won’t cause you to really tap your feet as much as shuffle them towards the exit.