Film Review & Trailer: Mama Mia: Here We Go Again

(L to R) Young Tanya (JESSICA KEENAN WYNN), Young Donna (LILY JAMES) and Young Rosie (ALEXA DAVIES) in “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.” Image: JONATHAN PRIME/variety.com

Frances Winston feels that although some of the scenes in Mama Mia: Here We Go Again seem to be written around the songs, this is great fun, and will leave you with a smile on your face 

Directed by: Ol Parker – Starring: Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Dominic Cooper, Cher, Meryl Streep

It is understating it to say that ABBA are gay icons, so I know many of you are eagerly awaiting this movie!

Yes – ten years after the monster smash-hit movie, based on the smash-hit stage musical, comes this sequel. Well actually, Mama Mia: Here We Go Again is trying to be a sequel and a prequel in one, so while we catch up with Sophie et al and what they are up to, we also zip back and forth to 1979, to find out how Donna ended up on the island of Kalokari, and found herself uncertain of Sophie’s paternity.

Unlike its predecessor, there is no source material for Mama Mia: Here We Go Again, so the writers, Richard Curtis, Catherine Johnson, and director, Parker, pretty much had free reign when it came to story. Except that any tale had to work around the songs. And therein lies the big problem. It is as if the songs were picked first, and then scenes were written to shoehorn them in, with some making no sense to the narrative.

For example, the first time we encounter Donna at her college graduation, she bursts into When I Kissed The Teacher, yet inexplicably doesn’t kiss a teacher, or hasn’t been kissing a teacher, and the whole scene seems quite contrived. Clearly someone thought that setting that at a graduation, since there are ‘teachers’ there, would make the song work, instead of thinking of a context for it. It is somewhat saved by a cameo appearance from ABBA’s very own Bjorn. There are several scenes that feel like this.

Meanwhile back in the present day, Sophie has finally got the hotel up and running, and is preparing for the grand opening. However, yet again certain scenes feel like they were written to explicitly feature certain songs, rather than to add to the story.

As we flit back and forth on the timeline, numerous classic ABBA tracks feature. The group have an extensive back-catalogue, and Mama Mia: Here We Go Again delves further into it. While many of them are instantly recognisable, some may not be as familiar to contemporary audiences. Equally, there are vocal issues with some of the cast. The thing with ABBA is they all had great voices. Really great voices. An adequate or OK voice simply won’t cut the mustard for these songs, and there are one or two numbers that actually grate due to the actor’s vocals.

One such actor is Hugh Skinner, who plays the 1979 version of Colin Firth’s character, Harry. You might recognise Hugh from The Windsors on Channel 4, in which he brilliantly parodies Prince William (if you haven’t seen it check it out – it’s hilarious). Here he pretty much plays Prince William again. But I could live with that. It’s when he sings I wanted to crawl under the seat. He really does not have the vocal chops to carry off an ABBA song. It’s not his fault – someone obviously listened to him in the casting process and thought it would do. But his Waterloo is truly cringe. It is left to a cameo appearance from ABBA’s Benny to distract from what’s going on (I’m seeing a pattern here).

He’s not the only actor to fall foul of the complexity and range of the songs, but he is one of the most noticeable, and for the roles that are new to this movie, there are plenty of actors who can act AND sing (just saying CDs). They even let Pierce Brosnan sing again after his shocking performance in the original, although this time it is extremely brief.

That aside, the cast do have great chemistry, and appear to be having great fun. But why wouldn’t they – they’re on a sunny island spending the day immersed in ABBA. The cinematography is stunning, helped by the beautiful surroundings of the Croatian island passing for Kalokari. However, in this instalment, they also feature other locations. Since the island was basically one of the co-stars of the last film, this isn’t always a good idea.

Musically you just know it’s good – I mean it’s ABBA. The songs have already proven themselves, and the arrangements of their classic tracks used here are brilliant. Unfortunately, the story, continuity, and historical accuracy don’t stand up to any real critical scrutiny.

But here’s the thing. Dodgy vocals (and the schmaltziest ending you will probably ever see) aside, it doesn’t have to. They don’t care what I (or any other critic) think. They just want the audience to have fun. And that they will. Despite its flaws, Mama Mia: Here We Go Again is irresistible. Its energy is infectious, and it will leave you tapping your toes, humming the songs, and with a smile on your face.

Personally, I think they should have gone with either a prequel or a sequel, and not crammed both into one, but like I said – they don’t care what I think. The audience will love Mama Mia: Here We Go Again and have fun, and that’s the main thing.

As for me – I’m just counting the days until the real ABBA release their new music, and show all the young pretenders how it’s done!

In Cinemas Now! See trailer below:

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The new LGBT magazine; available online, for download and on podcast. It's time for another view.
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