I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Connor Bynum // Film Critic
MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN
Rated PG-13, 114 minutes.
Director: Ol Parker
Cast: Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Dominic Cooper, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgård, Christine Baranski, Colin Firth, Cher, Julie Walters, Jeremy Irvine and Meryl Streep
Back in 2008, the popular broadway musical MAMMA-MIA! was adapted for the screen and received, with what could best be described as, a collective shrug. So when the announcement hit that a sequel to the film with no affiliation with the stage production was set to debut 10 years later, one can’t help but wonder who asked for this in the first place. Yet, MAMMA-MIA!: HERE WE GO AGAIN is thankfully able to avoid many of the pitfalls that held its predecessor back, even if it does stumble on a few of its own in the process.
Taking place over two different timelines, one in the 1970s and the other in present day, HERE WE GO AGAIN opens with Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) having taken over the family hotel after the untimely loss of her mother, Donna (Meryl Streep). That’s right, in spite of what the film’s marketing would have you believe, Streep’s presence in this film is reduced to a glorified cameo. However disappointing this may be to fans of the first film, the bold decision to remove Streep actually acts as a catalyst for the events in the present day timeline. Literally every person in Sophie’s life was impacted in some way by her mother, which makes seeing how it all happened in the 1970s timeline all the more satisfying to watch.
While more cynical viewers may be inclined to dismiss such a premise as nothing more than MAMMA-MIA! fanfiction, one could also say that it provides much needed weight to the characters on screen, therefore making them more relatable to the audience. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the 1970s actors collectively do a fantastic job at portraying their present day counterparts.
Lily James absolutely soars as Young Donna. It can’t be easy to act alongside such a legendary actress as Meryl Streep, but being tasked to play a younger version of the same character is a different game entirely and James plays it with irresistible confidence and charm. Alongside Donna are her two best friends, Rosie (Alexa Davies) and Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn), whose portrayals as younger versions of these characters (played by Julie Walters and Christine Baranski, respectively) are simply uncanny.
The flashback sequences are primarily used to show the audience the heavily referenced events of the first film, particularly how Donna fell in love with three young men who could each be Sophie’s biological father. Each of the younger actors cast to play Sam (Jeremy Irvine), Bill (Josh Dylan) and Harry (Hugh Skinner) deliver fine performances in their own right but also excellently portray younger versions of Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard and Colin Firth respectively. Young Harry is unfortunately given the short straw in this one as he all but disappears from the film after a rather memorable rendition of Waterloo.
Yet no amount of sentimental backstory could ever be enough to save a sequel to MAMMA-MIA! if it failed to deliver with its musical numbers. Keeping in tradition with the original show, the track list in HERE WE GO AGAIN is entirely comprised of ABBA songs. While there are a few obligatory reprisals of more popular songs featured in the previous film, all but diehard ABBA fans may find themselves hearing some of these songs for the first time. This is a most welcome decision, as it is likely to please those familiar with more obscure ABBA records as well as those worried they may be paying to see the same movie twice.
Aside from a visually pleasing duet between Sophie and Sky (Dominic Cooper) near the start of the film, the majority of the present day storyline is admittedly dull. Most of the time with these characters is spent talking about how much they miss Donna, which while understandable is frustrating when not a lot more happens. However, it’s the series of flashbacks that make the film work so well as they offer an unmistakable energy to be found in these scenes that was even lacking last time around.
In what could perhaps have been a more fun reveal in the final act had the trailers not given it away, legendary performer and professed ABBA fan Cher plays Sophie’s mysterious grandmother Ruby. Although she easily proves herself more than capable of singing any song the film throws at her, she all but phones it in for any scene without a soundtrack. It is established early on in the film that Sophie wishes her grandmother would be more involved in her life by coming to the hotel’s grand re-opening. The problem with Ruby’s inclusion in the marketing materials is that it takes away any tension from whether or not she will decide to attend the party, therefore removing any stakes the audience would have to invest in the arc of their relationship. Had the trailers not spoiled it, this moment likely would have been more satisfying.
Yet, these minor gripes are hardly enough to keep audiences from having the time of their lives. While proudly flaunting the signature campiness of the original, there’s an unmistakable amount of sincerity in this sequel that elevates it in practically every way over its predecessor.
MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN opens nationwide today (7/20).