Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Thanks to Japan’s complicated publicity machine, the sequel to the successful movie version of the very successful ABBA-inspired jukebox musical Mamma Mia! arrives well after most of the rest of the world has decided it’s a better movie than the original. The first thing that strikes me is pity for Meryl Streep, who basically saved the first movie from  mawkish amateurism with her native ability as a stage performer and willingness to parlay her appreciation of the songs into a silly nostalgia romp. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything at this point by saying that Streep’s character is deceased in the sequel, a move that may have been production-oriented (Meryl may have simply thought once is enough) but was probably strategic, since the plot is divided into two parallel storylines taking place in different time periods. In the present, we have Donna’s (Streep) daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), preparing to reopen her mother’s Greek hotel, with or without the aid of her famously three fathers, Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard), and Harry (Colin Firth). The other storyline depicts the early 20-ish Donna, played by the other young blonde go-to actress of the moment, Lily James, coming to the Greek island in question for the first time and meeting the three men who will seal her fate as not only a single mother of distinction, but a popular travel destination entrepreneur.

What most people find more agreeable about the sequel is that the musical numbers have been more carefully integrated into the plot, but only barely. For one thing, the two storylines don’t necessarily speak to each other in meaningful ways, and could have easily been spun off as separate films (a lost box office opportunity, I’d say, since the success of the sequel indicates it could be turned into a franchise). Considering that that producers decided to reprise some of the big hits from the original, it’s obvious they don’t think people will be put off by any redundancy. Jukebox musicals, in fact, thrive on redundancy, on the immediate satisfaction of the overly familiar. But the one thing that Here We Go Again definitely has going for it is that it also has a lot of what might be called ABBA’s “deep cuts,” songs that weren’t hits but nevertheless are familiar to anyone who bought their albums. And that’s the real appeal of the movie: Regardless of how wince-inducing the story and the characters become, the viewer anticipates the next production number, which arrives pretty quickly in a movie like this. “Instant gratification” would have been a more appropriate subhead than “Here We Go Again.”

And, again, everyone by now knows that Andy Garcia plays the Spanish love object to Christine Baranski’s horny pre-doddering Tanya if only to provide a contextual excuse to revive “Fernando,” and Cher shows up at the end as Donna’s still-living mother to convey dispensation to her granddaughter’s project, as well as (it’s implied) a lot of money. That Cher gets to sing not one but two ABBA songs is more than just gravy. Of all the big stars who have appeared in these two films she’s the one best suited to deliver the Swedish group’s outsized pop anthems. Whoever decided to hire her is a genius.

Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Shinjuku Picadilly (03-6861-3011), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Toho Cinemas Shibuya (050-6868-5002), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024), Ikebukuro Humax Cinemas (03-5979-1660), Toho Cinemas Ueno (050-6868-5066).

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again home page in Japanese.

photo (c) 2017 Universal Studios

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