The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

The original Mamma Mia! was kind of terrible – loud, brash, and over-the-top, as though cast and crew got drunk, sang a lot of ABBA songs, and filmed it all. That was, however, the exact correct tone for the movie, which is what made it so much fun in spite of itself. The sequel, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, is more professionally-made and several notches lower-key. It's also nowhere near as entertaining.

Duel plotlines unfold in the film. In one, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) prepares an elaborate party for the grand opening of the hotel her late mother Donna (Meryl Streep) dreamed of establishing on that beautiful Greek isle. The other, set in 1979, shows how Donna (now played by Lily James) met and romanced the three men who became Sophie's fathers.

All the supporting players are back – Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgard. Joining the cast are Andy Garcia as the manager of Sophie's hotel and Cher as her grandmother. That last addition is played as though it's supposed to be a surprise cameo, but since Cher's presence is given away in all the advertising, it doesn't seem like a spoiler to mention it.

By far, the biggest detriment to Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is that most of the best ABBA songs were used the first time around. The ones that are left are either their lesser hits – “The Name of the Game” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You” – or obscure ones like “When I Kissed the Teacher” and “Angel Eyes.” When “Dancing Queen” makes a reprise at the 80-minute mark, it comes as a huge relief to finally hear something that inspires excitement.

Director Ol Parker doesn't provide the visual flourish that Phyllida Lloyd did. Some of the musical numbers are surprisingly dull. In one, Cher descends a staircase. Other times, characters stand and sing at each other. Not every song needs a full-scale production. The ratio ought to be higher than it is here, though.

Script-wise, the songs are left to do a lot of the work. The manners in which Donna becomes involved with Harry, Bill, and Sam are unconvincing. They tend to sing, rather than interact in any sort of way that would convince us of the attraction, making it difficult to care too much about what happens between them. The present-day story is subservient to the one set in the past, so it can't carry the weight of what the movie wants to accomplish.

There are a couple pleasures to be found in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Lily James radiates charm, the cinematography is striking to look at, and it's always a kick to see Cher onscreen again. And, to be fair, the movie ends on a really nice note, although to say what it entails would deprive viewers of experiencing it for themselves. Let's just say it's a subtly effective musical number that delivers a much-overdue burst of emotion.

Despite those positives, it's hard to shake the feeling that Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is too subdued and too scattershot. The original was the cinematic equivalent of consuming a pot of coffee, then chugging an energy drink as a chaser. Any sane sequel should attempt to match that, not go in the opposite direction.

( out of four)

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is rated PG-13 for some suggestive material. The running time is 1 hour and 54 minutes.

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