Take a Chance on "Mia"
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Is there such a thing as too much ABBA? Well, if "Mamma Mia! Here Wo Go Again" is any indication, then the answer is... hell no! Seriously, despite every cold, cynical bone in my body trying to resist the film's amusing charms, there is just no denying how damn entertaining this unashamedly cheesy musical is. Serving as an unexpected improvement over its mediocre predecessor, this is a genuinely well-crafted piece of fluffy yet still surprisingly heartfelt filmmaking -- all set to the infectiously hummable tunes of Sweden's number one pop group.
Picking up five years after the events of the first film, the sequel finds Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) hard at work trying to reopen her family's hotel on the Greek island of Kalokairi following the death of her mother Donna (Meryl Streep). But when her preparations are dashed by bad weather and other obstacles, the relaunch is put into jeopardy. At the same time, Sophie's story is juxtaposed with flashbacks to a young Donna (Lily James) in 1979 as she meets three men that will change her life forever.
In case you're worried I made a typo up there, let me be clear: Yes, you read that correctly. Right off the bat, this movie kills off Meryl Streep's character from the first film. Kind of a dark setup for an ostensibly light musical, right? And while I was worried this choice might place a depressing cloud over the rest of the movie's otherwise breezy fun, the plot point actually goes on to develop a surprisingly strong emotional center for the story, informing the parallel arcs of Sophie and young Donna with an added sense of poignancy.
Of course, Streep does indeed still have a cameo here, but to be honest the rest of the ensemble is so strong that the legendary actress' relative absence isn't really a negative factor at all. Lily James does a wonderful job as young Donna, lighting up the screen with vibrant energy and playful charisma. Likewise, all of the returning cast members turn in memorable performances as well, clearly relishing the chance to ham it up on screen together again.
Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård have some particularly fun moments, but it's actually Christine Baranski and Julie Walters who end up stealing the show. The former delivers some truly laugh-out-loud one-liners, and the latter demonstrates a delightful knack for physical comedy as she tries to keep up with the film's lively choreography during musical numbers.
On that note, the song and dance sequences are all shot with an appropriately punchy and colorful style while adhering to a wonderfully tacky sense of humor. The filmmakers also do a solid job of weaving in even more ABBA songs like "When I Kissed the Teacher," "Angeleyes," and "Fernando." Sadly, however, there are only so many bubbly Swedish hits to choose from, and the movie does end up recycling several tracks that were already used in the original "Mamma Mia!"
But while I found the first film's cheesy spectacle to be rather clunky in execution, director Ol Parker manages to find a more cohesive and balanced tone here, offering enthusiastically goofy laughs without sacrificing heartfelt emotion. To this end, the traditional narrative scenes in between the musical numbers feel more fully realized and fleshed out, and though still quite simple, the story is structured in a more cinematic way. With that said, there are some inconsistencies between the flashback scenes here and details previously revealed in Donna's diary entries from the last movie, but I doubt there will be many viewers out there left losing sleep over continuity errors in the "Mamma Mia!" cinematic universe (the MMCU, as it were).
To be honest, I really wasn't expecting to enjoy this flick as much as I did. Going in, the very idea of a "Mamma Mia!" sequel just seemed kind of ludicrous to me, especially considering how mediocre the original is. But thanks to genuine heart, playful wit, silly charm, and solid filmmaking, this deliriously kitschy musical melted my frozen critic heart and totally won me over. ABBA's entire musical catalog is now stuck incessantly playing over and over again in my head... and I wouldn't have it any other way!
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