Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again aims to do what it says on the can. That is, be Mamma Mia, going again. But while many of the elements are the same as in the original —beautiful Greek island scenery; the actors frolicking among local folk and falling off boats; the knowing cheesiness; Pierce Brosnan singing his little heart out (alas) —you will be asking: where the hell is Meryl Streep? She’s on the poster but there’s no sign and no sign and no sign until, finally, at about 100 minutes in, she makes an appearance, and is wonderful. You do get Cher in an extended cameo, which is thrilling, but that doesn’t happen until about 90 minutes in. As the film has a running time of 114 minutes, this means that it’s only the last chunk that is worth seeing. The rest is just foreplay, and the kind of foreplay that seems to be taking for ever. (Here we go again, indeed.)
The plot this time out, if you can call it that, is just a clothes-line on which to peg the Abba hits and Brosnan singing his little heart out, alas. Still, the deal is that Donna (Streep’s character) has, goddamn it, died — you learn this in the opening scene, so please don’t put the spoiler police on to me — but her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) has relaunched their hotel. She’s calling it Bella Donna, which is sweet, or would be, if it weren’t also the name of a most deadly plant. I sometimes think that Sophie isn’t that bright. Anyway, she’s throwing a party to celebrate the relaunch and commemorate her mother, so Donna’s best friends (Julie Walters, Christine Baranski) truck up as do the three men who could be Sophie’s father (Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard). The cause of Donna’s death is never specified. But maybe shagging three men in as many days without protection catches up with you somehow?
Directed by Ol Parker, the film does not stay in one timeframe. It flashes back to the life of young Donna (now played by Lily James) and her initial encounters with the three possible fathers. Donna was, apparently, a student at Oxford University — we don’t know what her subject was, but it probably wasn’t contraception studies — and we see her at her graduation, throwing off her hat and bursting into ‘When I Kissed The Teacher’. This a) makes no sense and b) was never a smash for Abba, probably because it’s rubbish. The first film did gobble up almost all the big-hitters, tunes wise, so even though we still have ‘Waterloo’, and some reprisals, this offers slim pickings in the singalong department, which is a considerable weakness.
Essentially, Seyfried and James must carry this film, but while they are pretty and lively they are not at all charismatic which is why you’ll be repeating: where’s Meryl? It was her heft and transcendence that, I now think, made the first film. Without it, this is a dreary, familiar, empty watch. And when she does arrive? She’s on screen for five minutes, max, but she made me feel something, and made me cry. Cher, meanwhile, puts in a showstopping performance as Sophie’s grandma. ‘Fernando?’ she queries, when her eyes meet that of a man across a crowded room, and this is also delicious, as we all know what is coming. But these are moments, plus there’s all that foreplay first.
The thinking here is that if you (and your mum) loved the original film then you will love this. But I did love the original (as did my mum) yet I just couldn’t love this. Sorry.