Saturday, July 21, 2018

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again – toe tapping summer lovin’ movie to make you weep and smile ... with added Cher

While ABBA seemed to be the music of much of my childhood – I still have the cassettes somewhere in a box – the only time I watched the original Mamma Mia film was on a portable TV mounted high up on the wall of a German hotel room.

So I went sat down this afternoon in screen two of Lisburn Omniplex to watch Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again with a love of the music, but no particular attachment to the characters.

The film picks up the story five years after the end of the first movie, back on the fictional Greek island of Kalokairi (this time using the Croatian island of Vis). Sophie is opening the Hotel Bella Donna, named after her mother, but a storm threatens to ruin the plans for a fabulous party. Flashbacks using a well-matched younger cast show Donna’s journey to the island, and her proclivity for unprotected one-night-stands that led to baby Sophie and her three Dads.

The Ol Parker and Richard Curtis script is cliché-ridden – “Do what makes your soul shine” – and the lead-up to one of the opening numbers, When I Kissed the Teacher, is the clue if any was needed that the plot is neither designed to be deep nor believable. It was lovely to catch a glimpse of Björn Ulvaeus sitting on stage at the graduation, and Benny Andersson pops up later, perched behind a piano in Waterloo, one of the most outrageously fun songs that is the closest Mamma Mia 2 gets to the pumped up verve of The Greatest Showman.

Clever cinematography and editing by Robert Yeoman and Peter Lambert allow scenes to flash back and forward and locations to mirror each other with a visual choreography that is often more impressive than the big group Fame-tastic dance-offs which have scale and colour but lack any emotion other than flagrant happiness.

I’m a fan of the rich harmonies in ABBAs songs, the sound of the synths, and the chord sequences that embellish the melody and turn nearly every song into an anthem. (Head along to the IKEA Crayfish Party in Holywood Exchange on Thursday 9 August for Swedish kitsch and great live music from The Bjorn Identity.) Most of the cast do most of the songs justice as they lip-sync to studio-recorded tracks.

Lily James shines out from the cast as ‘young’ Donna. The frisky lass’s voice confidently wraps around her songs and she seems totally at home stepping into the twenty-something shoes of Meryl Streep. Christine Baranski steals scenes with her cougar-esque one liners as Donna’s friend Tanya – “Have him washed and sent to my tent” – while Julie Walters is endearing playing the bumbling Rosie. It’s only towards the end that Amanda Seyfried can inject some depth of character into Sophie.

The Lisburn audience laughed politely during the first two thirds of the film, and shuffled in and out to the toilet and concession stand, enjoying casting the shadow of their heads along the bottom of the film screen as they bobbed up and down the steps.

But when Cher stepped onto the island – yes, we had been waiting for ‘you’ – the film allowed itself to change up a gear. Having been tinged with grief throughout, the emotionally-packed finale delivered surprise reunions of long (and lost) relatives, a great rendition of Fernando, and a final glitzy number which merged together the young and old casts and allowed the audience to tap their feet – but never break out into song – one last time. And if you wait until the end of the credits, Omid Djalili makes an extra appearance in his illogical passport-stamping booth.

While the prequel/sequel melange is quite creative and the blend of familiar and less-familiar ABBA songs are well executed, the expensive cast across the two timelines dilutes the energy and dulls the sense of character recognition. But that won’t matter if you go back to see it a second or third time.

ABBA was always fairly tongue-in-cheek and aware that their fashion was outlandish and their routines over-the-top. So too with this second Mamma Mia movie. It’s a bit of summer lovin’ to make you weep and smile.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is available in most cinemas.

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