Come along for our Christmas singalong special and have a feel good time. If you saw the original, you know that you will be in for a slightly barmy but fun treat. Mulled wine and mince pies will be available.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again stands the earlier movie on its head (while using only a few of the songs that were prominently featured in it). Dramatically, it is far more elaborate than the original. Donna Sheridan (Meryl Streep), the American woman who stayed on the (fictitious) Greek island of Kalokairi, built a small hotel, and raised her daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), there, has died. A year after her mother’s death, Sophie, who’s about twenty-five, has finished renovating the hotel and is preparing—with the help of Sam (Pierce Brosnan), one of her possible fathers, and the one who married Donna at the end of the earlier film—its grand reopening. She’s hoping for her other two fathers, Bill (Stellan Skarsgård) and Harry (Colin Firth), to show up, awaiting Donna’s friends and musical cohorts, Rosie (Julie Walters) and Tanya (Christine Baranski), and fighting with her husband, Sky (Dominic Cooper), over the next turn in their lives.
Though the main characters of the original all return and their roles are certainly not deepened, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is nonetheless a movie of its script, written by Ol Parker (who also directed), Richard Curtis, and Catherine Johnson. Its drama is, in effect, built on mourning, which, far from being merely expressed or enacted, is embodied in an intricate flashback structure that serves a peculiar function. It brings the past to life, not for the movie’s characters or for its dramatic necessities and connections but, rather, directly for viewers. In Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, the recovery of the past outleaps the psychology of the characters and the present-tense action and delivers, directly to viewers, a celebratory commemoration of Donna.
Those flashbacks, set in 1979 and 1980, tell the story of Donna when she graduated from college (Oxford) and headed to Kalokairi by way of Paris. They offer younger versions of Donna, her friends, and her three lovers, and they’re the heart of the movie, owing in large part to the performance of Lily James, as young Donna, who brings a dramatic depth and substance with a seemingly calm effortlessness to her role.
Parker, working with the choreographer Anthony Van Laast, offers production numbers that are more fanciful than those of the earlier film. Robert Yeoman, cinematographer, makes significant contributions to Parker’s dance scenes in the best of the musical numbers (for Waterloo), one that’s set in an absurdly large and sumptuously decorated Parisian restaurant. Donna has a meet-cute with young Harry (Hugh Skinner) in the lobby of a rumpled hotel; soon they’re sharing a meal at which he bursts into romantic song and she joins him, in a series of fantasy moments that are reminiscent of Wes Andersonian capers (he was the cinematographer on those too).
The entire symbolic heft of the series is in the very presence of Streep in the role of Donna. She sings and dances, but she doesn’t even have to; she only has to be there in order to exalt Donna as a self-willed, supremely transformative powerhouse. (Her brief presence in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is deftly, movingly threaded into the action.) James has a tough job—to suggest a Streep-like level of composure and purpose along with the inchoate energies and risky uncertainties of youth—which makes her performance all the more impressive.
The new movie’s generational reach, of course, includes Cher this time around, as Ruby, Donna’s mother and Sophie’s grandmother. She sings Fernando, in a way that only she could, looks amazing and steals the movie for the few minutes she is in it. Since appearing in it, she has brought out a well-reviewed album of Abba songs.
Venue: William Loveless Hall