Sometimes you simply have to go along with the ride. Mamma Mia! was critically reviled upon its release in 2008, yet stormed the UK box office in outlandish fashion. It still sits a hair outside the all-time British top 10, so a follow-up effort is far from surprising commercially.
Here We Go Again is in a rare category of films, both a prequel and a sequel. It dances between timelines, watching Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie preparing to open the hotel she and her mother (Meryl Streep’s Donna) always dreamed of on their Greek island. Meanwhile, back in the heady days of 1979, Lily James is the self-same Donna, fresh out of Oxford University and raring to see the world or, failing that, a really gorgeous island forever.
In the present day, Donna has passed away and Sophie is struggling to find motivation and energy to go on without her. Her marriage to Sky (Dominic Cooper) is wobbly, and the three fathers she accepted at the end of the first film can’t even all make it to her opening party. Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgård and Colin Firth’s reassuring presences do, needless to say, eventually arrive in enthusiastic form. Tremendous backup comic notes are provided by newcomer Andy Garcia, returning expert Christine Baranski and the Chaplinesque Julie Walters.
Enthusiasm is indeed the order of the day, as the format of ABBA singalongs returns endearingly. We are treated to a range of tunes that didn’t make it into the first film, like ‘When I Kissed The Teacher’, and a couple that did; after all, we couldn’t seriously be expected to forego ‘Dancing Queen’. Many of these songs are well-rooted in scripting jokes, and repurposed to fit their new context – a late Cher number in particular holds a lovely punchline in its very title, explaining a long-withheld detail in the script. That Cher could feasibly be Meryl Streep’s mother is one of a few logical gaps that aren’t just forgivable, but almost come to feel deliberate in their lunacy.
The songs are delivered with aplomb, too. Part of the first film’s charm was its willingness to give the mic over to patently weaker singers, particularly its male cast members. This time they’ve been replaced by younger versions of themselves, Jeremy Irvine, Josh Dylan and Hugh Skinner deputising ably and singing rather more tunefully. They each have a fleeting but memorable encounter with James’s young American thing, and are drawn in by her charm.
James herself does a belting job of owning Here We Go Again, swooning at times, spirited and fiery at others. She is likeable, empathetic and sweet, and as her tribulations mount the film draws more and more out of her connection to her daughter. Seyfried’s search for closure is surprisingly tender, and late moments, including a gently interwoven version of ‘My Love, My Life’, are genuinely affecting. This is all the more impressive from a film that is openly a comedy, and demonstrably knows itself.
Those who didn’t like the original Mamma Mia! are unlikely to convert based on its equally glittery second entry. Yet they are missing out – this is a lovely, progressive, sex-positive, non-judgemental slice of pleasure, to be enjoyed with friends.