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Review: ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ is an Irresistibly Delightful Romp

July 20, 2018Ferdosa Abdi

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again may be an unnecessary film, but it is just so infectiously delightful and sweet. It's so delightful, in fact, that it's difficult to get mad at Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again for not being that great.

In this prequel/sequel, we learn more about how young Donna Sheridan (Lily James) ended up with three possible fathers for her soon-to-be-born baby, and how she became the woman we met in the original Mamma Mia!, while simultaneously we see Donna's grown-up daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), coping with a fractured marriage and the stresses of opening her own hotel. This movie has a lot going on, and there is an extremely charming story here about motherhood and family, but it ends up lacking in substance due to the split narrative. In all honesty, this could — and should — have been just about young Donna, as the present-day element leaves little room for the rather compelling story of an independent woman embracing her freedom and passion.

Part of what makes the young Donna story so wonderful is James' performance. She is sunshine personified, and although she possesses a different on-screen energy from Meryl Streep, who plays the present-day version of Donna, she respectfully pays homage to Streep's performance and the essence of their character. Donna is a vibrant woman untethered by society's expectations who freely roams the world, enchanting everyone she encounters with her genuine love of life, and James and the actors playing the younger versions of Tonya, Rose, Sam, Harry and Bill do an excellent job, with young Harry (Hugh Skinner) being the standout of the three men.

It's rather astonishing to watch Skinner evoke Colin Firth's mannerisms, speech patterns and overall persona, and it makes his scenes with James so much more enjoyable. Meanwhile, Sam and Bill are not given the same courtesy by their actors (Jeremy Irvine and Josh Dylan), but they do a fine job with what they are given, while Donna's lifelong friends (Christine Baranski and Julie Walters) are also honored with stellar performances by their younger counterparts (Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies), with Keenan Wynn delivering a her dead-on impression of Baranski.

The aspect of the narrative that is set in the past also enjoys the best musical numbers. Just like the first movie, ABBA's music is used in a heavy-handed manner and comes across as bad karaoke, which is something that can't be helped and is actually part of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again's charm. However, all of James' musical numbers are more energetic and fun, with better production value to boot. Contrast this with the present-day story elements, which, due to their nature, result in musical numbers that are rather somber and awkward.

The young Donna portion of the film is also the best because it embodies the joy and quirkiness of its predecessor, and it provides a compelling backstory for the rather odd situation Sophie finds herself in the first Mamma Mia!. By splitting the narrative, however, writer/director Ol Parker ends up doing a disservice to Donna's story, which is that of an aspirational woman who isn't ashamed of her sexuality, who doesn't care about arbitrary rules, and who boldly ventures into the world to make her own destiny. By focusing on that story, this followup could have been a worthy successor to Phyllida Lloyd's vision; but instead, we get a bigger, louder and hollow imitation.

All in all, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again has its ups and downs, but the charismatic cast, the picturesque locations and the lovely sentiment easily make up for the poor script. Suffice to say, if you want to take a mini-vacation for a couple of hours and bask in Lily James' dynamic performance and the sweet melodies of ABBA, you can't go wrong with Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again releases July 20th, 2018 from Universal Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for some suggestive material. Its runtime is 1 hr. 54 min.

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