Saturday 19 January 2019

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again review: Take a chance on this sequel that embraces its silliness

3 stars

Dancing queens: Jessica Keenan Wynn, Lily James and Alexa Davies go full Abba
Dancing queens: Jessica Keenan Wynn, Lily James and Alexa Davies go full Abba
Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

Once upon a time it was a sin to like the songs of Abba. Now it's a sin not to.

When Björn, Benny, Anni-Frid and Agnetha began pumping out the hits like hot cakes in the mid-1970s, cynics were fooled by the band's cheesy image into thinking they were a bunch of Scandinavian numpties with a facile knack for catchy tunes.

Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard and Pierce Brosnan play the three dads
Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard and Pierce Brosnan play the three dads

Forty years later, while 99.9pc of the earnestly incompetent punk hits cooked up in London and Manchester have been deservedly forgotten, Björn and Benny's songs are played everywhere, and have earned comparisons with the work of Lennon and McCarthy.

A 1999 stage show based on their songs, Mamma Mia!, formed the basis of a 2008 film whose success took everyone by surprise. Made for just $60m, it grossed over $600m and played on in cinemas for months in sing-a-long screenings.

Read more: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again – but just how does the sequel shape up?

These became a kind of social phenomenon, with patrons rocking back and forth merrily in the aisles as they bellowed forth raucous versions of 'Chiquitita' and 'Dancing Queen'. All good, clean fun of course, and Mamma Mia!'s frothy exuberance was hard to resist. But one has to ask oneself, did we really need a sequel?

Amanda Seyfried, Dominic Cooper and Cher
Amanda Seyfried, Dominic Cooper and Cher

The original film's plot was cribbed from a 60s comedy called Buona Sera, Mrs Campbell, in which Gina Lollobrigida played a Roman beauty who doesn't know which lucky GI is the father of her daughter. Meryl Streep's character in Mamma Mia!, Donna Sheridan, ran a small hotel on a Greek island but had been a bit of a tearaway in her youth.

Her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) was about to get married, and attempted to solve the mystery of who her father was by inviting the three principal suspects, Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Harry (Colin Firth) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) to the wedding.

Despite no end of spontaneous warbling, the mystery of Sophie's parenthood was never solved, and she ended up by happy consensus with three proud dads. But as Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again opens, they're all she has to lean on, as her beloved mother has died, leaving Sophie to take over and renovate the hotel.

On the day of the hotel's grand re-opening, Sophie is feeling especially lonely: her husband Sky (Dominic Cooper) is away in New York, Harry and Bill are otherwise occupied, there's a storm coming and only Sam is around to provide a broad shoulder to cry on. Sophie's in a reflective mood, then, as she casts her mind back to imagine how her adventurous and free-spirited mother coped with even greater adversity.

Lily James plays the young Donna, who leaves Oxford University in 1979 determined to live a life less ordinary.

And as she trots around Europe in search of a home, she meets three handsome but very different young men who'll become lifelong friends.

All of this nonsense is merely a pretext for more Abba songs, some of which are pretty obscure. Have any of you heard of 'When I Kissed the Teacher' before? I certainly hadn't, and yet it hardly seemed to matter when it was belted out with such exuberance by James and Co. It's the opening number of a film that begins as it means to go on: joyously, camply, with infectious fun.

Like the first film, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again doesn't just acknowledge its silliness, it embraces it. Christine Baranski and Julie Walters return to steal most of the laughs as Donna's old buddies, Tanya and Rosie, Colin Firth is fearlessly floppy as the diffident but lovable Harry, and Hugh Skinner does a hilarious version of his younger self. Cher makes a memorable entrance late on as Sophie's formidable granny, but James is the real revelation in this film.

She's talented and beautiful, but can sometimes seem awkward and stiff. Not here, and her charming and winning portrayal of young Donna is the spine of this giddy but thoroughly lovable film.

In fact, if you're not even slightly won over by its good humour and innocence, you might want to check your pulse. You could be dead.

Also releasing this week: Movie revies: Hotel Artemis, Summer 1993, Generation Wealth, The Apparition

Films coming soon...

Mission Impossible - Fallout (Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill); Hotel Transylvania 3 (Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Steve Buscemi); Apostasy (Siobhan Finneran, Sasha Parkinson, Steve Evets).

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