Thursday, July 19, 2018


Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is a good argument for taking the time to get it right. The original jukebox musical Mamma Mia! hung ABBA's greatest hits on a threadbare clothesline plot about a daughter (Amanda Seyfried) getting married while trying to figure out which of her Meryl Streep mother's former lovers (Pierce Brosnan? Stellan Skarsgard? Colin Firth?) is her father. To the extent that movie worked at all, which was little, it gathered up from the catchy pop sounds of the Swedish group to which it was a tribute, and the eager giddiness with which its decidedly amateur chorus attacked their routines. The shame, then, was how consistently they were undone by slapdash editing that fumbled the timing of jokes and dances alike. Now, ten years later, they're back, and it's better than ever. It has less plot, but more story, if you catch my drift, with stakes so very low, but a timeline that whipsaws back and forth in time, catching the early days of a younger Streep's whirlwind romances with three young guys she meets while galavanting across Europe in a post-collegiate haze, and the modern travails of the daughter trying to start a hotel on her mother's beloved Greek isle. It's still just a pretense to sing and dance, but writer-director Ol Parker (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) leads the troupe with a surer hand. He holds the spectacle of the clever choreography with a better bounce and clearer cuts, while allowing the cornball storytelling to work up to a glitter fever of big, belting emotions sung through the slightly lesser hits of ABBA (and encores of all the best they used last time). In sum, this movie is a blast of frivolity - dancing, jiving, having the time of its life. You try to hold back a smile when a gigantic group number to "Dancing Queen" inaugurates a party in style as the camera circles three boats in the harbor.

The new cast members are charismatic, with supremely charming Lily James (Cinderella) stepping capably into the role of the youthful free spirit Streep meeting handsome young men (Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner, and Josh Dylan) wooing her at every stop. She breaks a heart. Hers gets broken. It's all filling in backstory we didn't much need literalized in the first film, but this one's better anyway for it. It's bouncy, ebullient, playful. Her story plays out a casually heightened and sweetly permissive sense of easily falling in and out of love. The participants are uniformly as pretty as the picturesque sun-dappled Europe around them. Of course they sing "Waterloo" in a Parisian cafe. Of course she glumly sings the title song when she's been betrayed -- "I was cheated by you and I think you know when," after all. It's all a fizzy blur, attractively photographed and energetically performed. It rushes on like a summer storm and retreats as quickly. The flashbacks nestle in the story of the daughter, who feels closer than ever to her mother because of her location and company. She's surrounded by some of the returning characters (Christine Baranski, regal as always, and Julie Walters, always charmingly, purposely, a step behind the dance) and helped by a welcome addition in a dashing Andy Garcia. She's missing a departed loved one. There's a sadness there, but nothing a song can't lift for a moment. There are teases of heavier emotions around the margins -- and a bittersweet ghostly duet in the end -- but the movie's too much of a dance party to get weighed down. This lets it draw sweet, sentimental contrast between mother and daughter, to watch youthful folks passionately living lives, and older folks stubbornly trying to keep their spontaneity afloat. All that and Cher turns up in the end to literally upstage fireworks in the most predictable and satisfying payoff in recent dangled plot hint history. What a fun, featherweight, goofy groove of a hangout movie. 

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