Around halfway through Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Lily James’ youthful incarnation of Donna Sheridan, the character originally made famous by Meryl Streep ten years ago, states that there are only two types of people in the world. In reference to “seducers”, Donna argues that there are those that seduce women because they have a genuine contempt for them and would like to assert their dominance over them, and that the others simply fall in and out of love every evening. I would like to take Donna’s claim, that there are only two types of people, and rather than use it with regards to so-called seducers, I would like to suggest that the two kinds of people in the world are as follows: Those that love ABBA, and subsequently fun, and those that do not. If you are of the latter, then I would not recommend you read this review.
In 2008, Mamma Mia! was met with a significant amount of disdain from critics – a great many felt that it was an implausible, saccharine jukebox musical. Quite frankly, this is exactly what Mamma Mia! was and is, but does that make it a bad film? For me, not at all. Indeed, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again largely consists of the same kind of ridiculous, impossibly cheerful moments that made up the vast majority of its predecessor’s run-time and I’m a firm believer in the idea that it should be celebrated for that – not berated. These, after all, are troubled times and one can only take so much before one needs to escape to a sun-dappled Greek island in the company of Christine Baranski, Cher, and Colin Firth. Generally, I’m of the view that art should reflect the world around us, that it should hold up a mirror to society as The Handmaid’s Tale has been doing on a weekly basis as of late, but is it really so wrong to seek out the kind of pure, joyous escapism that is on display in this film? No, it’s not. Regardless of what some may argue, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is not at all worthless – it’s art that serves a purpose in that it allows us to fully immerse ourselves in joy; total, unadulterated joy. To deprive yourself of it is to deprive yourself of the few wonders there are to be found in periods such as these.
Before I continue to sing the praises of this film, I must admit that when a sequel to Mamma Mia! – which would also serve as a prequel – was originally announced, I was somewhat apprehensive. Would this turn out to be a poor, unremarkable attempt to repeat the financial success of the first film? Would it feel inauthentic? All of my fears, however, dissipated the moment that I stepped foot once again into this ludicrous, charming world; a world in which all obstacles are tackled with the use of ABBA’s discography – what better balm is there, for all the tumultuous events that are taking place outside of the cinema right now, than some timeless Scandi-pop and a dash of unashamed campiness?
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again picks up some years after the events of the original Mamma Mia, which ended with the young, headstrong Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) deciding to make peace with the fact that she has three potential fathers and choosing to delay her marriage to Dominic Cooper’s endearingly dim Sky. When we meet Sophie again, she is in the process of transforming the idyllic Greek home in which she grew up into a grand hotel, as her mother Donna once dreamed of doing. Before long, various complications begin to present themselves as Sophie attempts to emulate some of the determination that her aunties Rosie and Tanya (the perpetually excellent Julie Walters and Christine Baranski) tell her Donna displayed in her own youth. The extensive tales they tell of her resilience call, of course, for a series of flashbacks to the past. Enter Lily James, who, as a young Donna, radiates so much warmth and such natural charm that it is perfectly understandable that three separate men would be willing to follow her to a remote island in pursuit of her love.
In fact, much of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’s success is the result of James’ performance – she is completely committed to the role of a woman in search of her own independence and meaning in a hazy, post-graduation summer and fills every scene with a real sense of joy. She often glows in a manner so ethereal that it almost feels impossible and she manages to create a believable contrast with Streep’s rather more mellowed Donna of the original film. James’ version of the character is young, reckless, and infectiously optimistic, whereas Streep’s is far more restrained and more mature, if still a little wild at times. This touch, this decision to convey well-observed character development, is essential in anchoring Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. For this, along with a few other moments that I shall not explore here for fear of spoiling it for those that haven’t seen it yet, gives the film the kind of emotional resonance that I never expected to find in a musical based on ABBA’s back-catalog.
Much of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again plays out as one would expect – there are conflicts and there are resolutions, there is plenty of singing and a plethora of extensive dance scenes which involve a great many characters that, honestly, cannot dance (I am referring specifically here to Firth and Pierce Brosnan). This is the true wonder of Mamma Mia!, that even those that can barely carry a tune, or whom do not appear to contain a single rhythmic bone in their body, enjoy themselves without a care in the world. In times such as these, we need films like Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, where happiness, love, and fun in its purest form are celebrated with total sincerity. Art should, indeed, reflect the state of the world as it is, but it should also serve as a means of escape, particularly from the dread we have been faced with recently – and what better way to do so than to join the likes of Streep and Cher and indulge in the joys of ABBA, all while witnessing such events unfold on a sun-drenched island? So, abandon your preconceptions of what “quality” cinema is and immerse yourself in everything this film has to offer. In other words, face your Waterloo.