On the two viewings I’ve managed so far, I’m pretty sure Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is the epoch-defining film that we don’t deserve but which we sorely need
“When you’re gone
How can I even try to go on?”
I was lucky enough to see an early screening of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again last week and I thought it was fricking fantastic. But as the occasion fuelled by an afternoon tea that was heavy on the bubbles and the raucous atmosphere of a stagey audience and not quite bold enough to stick by the courage of my convictions, I opted to wait until seeing the film a second time before officially declaring my opinion.
And I have to say I really do think this is a superb film. The sequel that no-one really knew they wanted, whipped together in under 12 months once the green light had been given, that somehow manages to do everything you expect it to, and but better, and infinitely more moving than it has any right to be. I knew I’d shed a tear or three of joy but there was more than one moment where I was just sobbing, so rich is the emotion here. And that’s only fitting considering the bittersweet melancholy that is ABBA’s true calling card, rather than the cheesiness they are famed for.
The original film became a critic-defying mammoth hit 10 years ago, able to parlay the success of the musical onto the big screen. But for the sequel, producers Judy Craymer and Gary Goetzman have wisely turned to new blood and so Ol Parker (writer of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel films) writes and directs, from a story by himself, Richard Curtis and original musical writer Catherine Johnson. And in lighting on a concept that serves as both sequel and prequel, they’ve found a winner.
Five years on from Mamma Mia, Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie is finally putting into the place the plans her mother had for opening a hotel on the Greek island she made her home. But a storm’s a-brewing, in several ways, and she’s in need of some familiar faces to help her through. At the same time, flashbacks to twenty-five years ago give us the story of how Donna ended up on the island in the first place, in the pickle that leaves Sophie unsure just who her father is.
And both timelines prove effective. From an explosive graduation ceremony (Donna and her Dynamos apparently went to Oxford, proving the Oxbridge bias gets everywhere!) soundtracked by ‘When I Kissed The Teacher’ to backpacking around Europe where she variously meets Harry (Hugh Skinner), Sam Jeremy Irvine) and Bill (Josh Dylan), Lily James is perfect casting as the young Donna. She has all the freedom of spirit that means you believe she could grow up to be Meryl Streep and has all the open charisma that makes you buy 100% into her carefree horny ways. Credit too to Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies who are possibly the film’s funniest performers as the younger incarnations of Christine Baranski’s Tanya and Julie Walters’ Rosie.
In the current day though, there’s something much more mature at play as ideas of grief and legacy, disappointment and responsibility come to the fore. And in this respect, waiting ten years proves a winner as you really feel all the time that has passed, the lives that have unspooled in ways that no-one could have predicted. That’s not to say there isn’t wit and lightness here too – Baranski gets the lion’s share of the one-liners – but that the sadness is heightened beautifully by the contrast. Suffice to say that the rendition of ‘My Love, My Life’ late on is as perfect a moment that has ever been caught on film.
And then Cher arrives (technically she arrives a song before this but bear with…) as Ruby, Sophie’s estranged grandmother. The kind of insane but inspired casting that deserves Academy Awards, she elevates the film into levels of high camp hitherto uncharted, bathed in heavenly light, flirting with a grizzled Andy Garcia, and living her best life. Ultimately that is why the film works, because everyone just seems to be having the time of their lives. The closing sequence is testament to that, starring Colin Firth’s funniest moment ever, and you have to stay right to the end of the credits to get every last treat.
Yes, you could point as bits here and there. ‘One of Us’ is a disappointing flop; for all his flirting with the ace Omid Djalili, it would have been nice to see Harry’s sexuality acknowledged more overtly and in doing service to such a large ensemble, you can’t help but crave more of the Great Baranski (her chemistry with Walters on ‘Angeleyes’ is just genius). But don’t get caught up in when Harry gave his guitar to Donna, enjoy the delve into corners of ABBA’s back catalogue you might not be familiar with (‘I’ve Been Waiting For You’ was a gorgeous discovery for me) and surrender to the unalloyed pleasures of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.