The brilliance of the Mamma Mia! franchise is how the Swedish band has managed to keep their music relevant and fresh throughout the decades. Their iconic 1970s anthems were the driving force behind the stage production and the eventual 2008 cinematic interpretation with Meryl Streep as the lead Donna, in the worldwide blockbuster hit. A decade later, the whole crew comes back to see if they can provide another wave of ABBA euphoria.
The hotel on the beautiful island of Kalokair that served as the stage for the original tale of paternity and marriage has become the passion for Sophie (Amanda Seyfried). Her goal is the fulfil the dreams of her free-spirited mother, Donna, who has passed away in the previous year. As she plans for the grand opening, things become a roller coaster of emotion and experiences that range from a freak storm to Sky (Dominic Cooper) trying to decide if he is going to take a job in New York and only one of her fathers being able to make it to the festivities.
As Sophie tries to hold things together on the island with the help of her hotel manager, Mr Cienfuegos (Andy Garcia) and her stepfather, Sam (Pierce Brosnan), she gains some emotional relief from her mother’s friends and former Dynamo singing group, Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters). They help her to reach back into her mother’s past to see how she is still at the heart of all that was happening around the island and in her daughter’s life. This journey through the memories of the matriarch’s life shows how she came in contact with each of her daughter’s potential fathers and why she chose to remain on Kalokair to raise her daughter and attempt to open the hotel. Through the trials of the opening and the nostalgia elements of Donna’s youth, Sophie is able to find the courage to move forward and it helps her to prepare for the surprises of the special night.
The light-hearted approach to director Oliver Parker’s (Now Is Good, writer of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) script and storytelling provides everything that fans of the original will seek in the second chapter of this ABBA-inspired property. The music that harkens back to a by-gone era, a story that leads to a fantastical suspension of disbelief and enough references to the culture of the 1970s to make the most cynical Baby Boomer smile.
Riding on the wave of the musical resurgence from the past few years, Parker seems to rely more on the influences of television’s Glee with the songs dictating the storyline as opposed to complementing the script. Unlike The Greatest Showman and La La Land that provided new avenues of the genre in song and style, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again unapologetically is a showcase for certain songs from the discography of the Swedish band with a script that merely attempts to connect the musical numbers.
Even with this star-studded cast and how some prove they can or can not sing, the highlight of the film is Lily James’ performance as the young Donna. She manages to commit to this character with the abandon which makes the even less than believable elements of the writing bearable and helps to propel the story forward. Cher and Meryl Streep do make cameo performances that are enjoyable, but the heart of the film belongs to Lily James.
Even with her courageousness and free-spirit, the Donna character proves to be the strength and one of the biggest weaknesses of the film. James cannot hide the fact that despite her supposed example of female empowerment, the younger Donna still proves too reliant on men for her identity. This is primarily seen it the choices she makes with her body that leads to some life-changing outcomes.
An honest evaluation of these films has never been to set new standards of film or musicals, but merely to allow audiences to reminisce and sing along with familiar tunes. Even though it does not break any new ground, this film will provide a multitude of mother/daughter nights out throughout this season.
REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?
Our families bring out the best and worst of our lives. And parents, siblings and all of the various relations know more about our history. They can remind us of our successes and our failures throughout our lives. Either with or without a cool soundtrack!
Interestingly, the God of the Bible had the best intentions for families from the beginning of time. The goal was to be a cohesive unit that works together and celebrates the various gifts that each were given. Even in this fallen existence, family members should strive to encourage one another. Weeping with those when they weep, celebrating when they are celebrating and speaking the truth into their lives with grace, love and mercy. If you can incorporate an ABBA song into your day, it could even help a bit.
1. What is sacrificial love? (John 15:13, Ephesians 5:25)
2. Is life mysterious? (Colossians 2:1-3, Matthew 13:11-13)
3. Does God care about my dreams? (Jeremiah 29:11, Proverbs 16:3)