I’ve said it before and I will continue saying it until the day I die: Mamma Mia is the worst film ever made. I know it’s a contentious point because there are lots of terrible films that I’ve never seen and there are loads of people who bloody love this film. However, I fail to see any positives about the way that film was made and everything about it makes me angry. It’s terribly shot, terribly choreographed, terribly sung, terribly written, terribly acted… you get the idea. I hate it. There is one specific camera move during Meryl Streep’s performance of ‘Mamma Mia’ itself that really gets my goat. Meryl lies on the roof singing and the camera moves up and then, as Meryl waves her arms, crashes back down. It’s the worst shot I’ve ever seen. And then there’s the whole of ‘The Winner Takes It All’ where Meryl, I assume for lack of better direction, starts miming the lyrics as Bronhom stands completely helpless. It’s so fucking bad…. yet I find myself yearning to watch it every now and then. It’s like that second piece of cake at the end of a 3 course meal. You know you don’t want or need it. You know it’ll make you feel sick for the rest of the night. You know you’ll regret it for ages. Yet, you know you’re going to eat that fucking cake. Mamma Mia is that second piece of cake. I can’t just put it back in the fridge and walk away. I need something on which to focus my hatred. Which is why I always knew I’d go and see the second one at some point.
Still, I didn’t think it would be this soon. I was expecting to wait until the hype had died down and everyone was off the Abba high. But then my mother made it clear, in the subtext of insistence that she didn’t want to see it, that she really did want to see it. So, I did the decent daughterly thing and booked two tickets for this weekend. I have to admit, I had no real belief that I would walk out of the screening feeling anything other than hatred. So, it was to my intense surprise that I ended up not hating it as much as the first one.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I liked it but there was a certain sense of… enjoyment? Fun? Silliness? Something anyway. Do I still hate that this movie exists? Yes. Do I still hate that they essentially use all of the same songs as the first one? Yes. Do I still hate that the story is completely contrived and trite? Yes. Do I still hate how badly they shoehorn in the songs with the plot? Yes. But was it a better film than the first one? Yes. Of course, considering how little I care for that film, it is hardly a ringing endorsement Oliver Parker’s follow-up to the adaptation of the popular stage musical. Still, there is a hell of a lot more self-awareness this time as well as a more reliable person in the director’s chair.
The story is a prequel and sequel hybrid really. It takes place 10 years after the original where Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is eagerly awaiting the opening of her new hotel, Hotel Bella Donna. It is being opened in honour of her mother, Donna (Meryl Streep), who died one year earlier. At the same time, Sophie is having relationship drama with her boyfriend Sky (Dominic Cooper). So she ends up finding herself on the same Greek Island as her mother, trying to live out her dream, and understanding the relationship drama she went through years earlier. Which is why the narrative keeps flitting back to show us Donna (Lily James) in the 70s as she meets the three men that the first film introduced as Sophie’s potential fathers.
I won’t say there a great deal more substance to the plot than the first film and I can’t say it feels any more full of point than its predecessor. It’s the same old thing where we meander through feel good moments to bring us up and then emotional moments to bring us down. A mixture of barely connected moments that are all flimsily held together with every Abba song the writer could think of.It doesn’t really have anything driving it beyond the remit of having a good time. Which, to be fair, is something the first film was severely lacking. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again at least has the good sense to understand that it isn’t a serious or even a good film. It knows it is only being made to ensure everyone making has a nice time in Greece and the audience is able to experience it second-hand.
There was a horrible sense with the first one that nobody really knew that what they were making was shit. Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper were trying to give us their best performances but were working with one of the worst scripts imaginable. Meryl Streep always looked as though she was trying to remember why’d she had agreed to star in it. And the rest just didn’t have a clue about anything. But it was all made so sincerely: as if the story of a woman trying to work out who impregnated her 20 odd years ago was something we all deserved to give a shit about. The sequel doesn’t make that mistake. It is more willing to have fun and, most important, make fun of itself.
I’ll never like these films. Nothing could make that happen. But I can’t deny that there were moments within this one that I actually smiled at. Before, Julie Walters was the only highlight to be found. Here, though Walters is still one of the strongest players around, there were other moments to give hope. There were some good one-liners and visual gags that actually suggested someone had contemplated making this an okay film. And, let’s be honest, there is no film that Lily James cannot improve just by turning up. She’s an absolute delight and the best thing about the flashbacks. The three younger men are even more forgettable than their older selves were in the original. The younger versions of Donna’s friends are weirdly accurate but still just make you wish you could see the originals.
I’m not saying that I want anymore of these films because, let’s face it, there wasn’t enough story for the first one. But, it’s nice to know that there was some small amount of silliness to be found within the music of Abba. I could even find myself rewatching this film and not seething with rage. Which is a highly unexpected end to this review.