Wednesday, May 29, 2024

‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ Is a Mixed Bag of Mediocrity

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Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is made to be watched with a cheerful sense of nihilism. Attempting to weave together the myriad of plot threads into a cohesive sensical story is a sure path to madness. Nothing matters and it is best viewed with a content grin and a turned off brain.

Aggressively optimistic to the point of having almost weaponized its cheerful carefree attitude, Mamma Mia 2 is not a movie for everybody, myself included. I enjoy ABBA, but I do not worship at the altar of the Swedish supergroup. I love musicals, but not jukebox musicals, musicals that structure their plot around a particular artist or band’s catalog.

A year after Donna’s (Meryl Streep) death, her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) has completed her mother’s dream. She has renovated the old farmhouse, where she lived, into a lavish island hotel. Her boyfriend Sky (Dominic Cooper) is in London finishing up a Hotel internship. Brazenly Mama Mia 2 practically opens with them breaking up over the phone.

Donna’s best friends Rosie (Julie Waters) and Tanya (Christine Baranski) show up to lend moral support. I strongly suspect the successful renovation is less Sophie and more the international man of mystery, Cienfuegos (Andy Garcia). Distraught by Donna’s death the characters are led down memory lane via flashbacks. We watch helpless, as young Donna (Lily James) sings and dances her way to adventure, love, and eventually to the island of Kalokairi.

Did you enjoy the first Mamma Mia? Did you enjoy the prospect of seeing Mama Mia but just never got around to seeing it? If the answer to either of those questions is an enthusiastic yes, then Mama Mia 2 is smack in the middle of your wheelhouse.

I haven’t seen the first Mama Mia but again, nothing matters, so it’s not necessarily a requirement. Much like last year’s The Greatest Showman it is a movie more driven by it’s persistent and perpetual optimism than anything inherent in the script. I must confess, despite my review I did quite enjoy The Greatest Showman but felt it’s technical aspects lacking.

The issues I had with The Greatest Showman are the same ones I have with Mamma Mia 2. For all its energy and sweetness, it looks and feels bland. Ol Parker gives us a competent musical, but he doesn’t give us a memorable one. The choreography consists of people kicking their legs up and swiveling their hips. It’s depressing to think of the generation of film buffs who think this and The Greatest Showman are the extents of what screen musicals are capable of.

Much like The Greatest Showman, Mamma Mia 2 isn’t all bad. The choreography may be non-existent, but Parker does manage to find life in the big epic numbers. You could roll your eyes when young Donna and young Harry (Hugh Skinner) sing and dance to Waterloo inside a Napoleon-themed restaurant. But since by that time we are almost ten to fifteen minutes into the movie you’d be a bit slow to not have realized Mamma Mia 2 left subtlety at the stage door.

The big numbers spread a blanket of infectious glee over the audience. When I Kissed The Teacher, a number that feels shoved in purely because they had the rights to it, brought a smile to my face. Young Donna sings the song as her Valedictorian speech as she graduates from Oxford. Parker heavily implies the affair young Donna had was with the Vice Chancellor played by Celia Imrie. Imrie even has a refrain where she dances with Donna’s feather boa in front of the staff.

When I kissed The Teacher alone contains more open/implied gayness than the entirety of the Marvel, DC/WB, and Star Wars franchise combined. A great running gag involving a customs agent played Omid Djalli, who seems forever posted at the same customs station; flirts openly with Harry (Colin Firth). Mamma Mia 2 has more queer content than almost every existing franchise haunting our megaplexes. Even more disappointing is those nauseatingly safe extravaganzas are often called ‘daring’.

Daring? Sure, in an era where artists are making characters gay, after the fact, and expect applause. Or are cutting out gay stories wholesale for the sake of “time”. I say nuts to that. I’d kill for one of those ‘daring’ movies to be a fraction as gay as Mamma Mia 2 is. And you can’t tell me it wouldn’t play well overseas because the first Mamma Mia tore up the overseas box office. If anything Mama Mia 2 is driving, yet another nail, into the coffin bed of excuses Hollywood, has extolled as to why their stories are so depressingly heterosexual.

Even the Waterloo number has a woman in a wheelchair prominent in its choreography. Disabled people are rendered invisible in most movies. Mamma Mia 2 featuring one so prominently, even if only for one song, deserves some kind of credit. For all its problems, Mamma Mia 2 handles its inclusivity with ease.

Credit where credit is due, Mamma Mia 2 is still a dreg of a movie for long stretches of time. But it’s harmless, and again I recognize it manifestly was not made for me. To say I “hated” Mamma Mia 2 would be a bit harsh. But then, using the word “liked” would be a bit much. Mamma Mia 2 does have its moments, this is a movie with an ABBA soundtrack after all. I’m not dead inside. Which is more than I can say for the movie which seems for long stretches to be utterly lifeless.

I applauded, along with one other man in the theater, when Cher came on screen because that’s what you do. That’s. What. You. Do. Cher’s appearance breathes a sorely incandescent life into a musical, despite being built around ABBA songs, had to this point felt stodgy. Baranski and Waters have a number with Seyfried, Angel Eyes, which teases us with the possibility of a better movie. Waters and Baranski are old pros at this and light up the screen with every word and movement. The two give a masterclass in acting by posing.

Lily James is a vibrant personality with a magnetic presence. Though the script by committee never really calls on her to do more than laugh and sing.  James is a natural presence but Parker and the story seem gobsmacked in what to do with her. If she comes off as insipid it is merely because the script for Mamma Mia 2 by Parker makes her so.

Parker has the sole scriptwriting credit. Curiously though, the story itself is credited to Richard Curtis, Catherine Johnson, as well as Parker himself. Mamma Mia 2 feels as if Parker took his story, and the other two, mashed them together mad libs style.

Scenes precede other scenes which bleed into other scenes, none of which have any real impact on anyone or anything. Seyfried’s Sophie lays out the food for the grand opening of the Bella Donna Hotel the day before. She is horrified when a freak rainstorm begins to pour down. A freak rainstorm on a Greek island in the middle of the ocean? Surely Sophie had to have been prepared for this? Seyfried runs about screaming and crying. Her staff diligently begins to put stuff away. Apparently, they know what to do in a rainstorm more than Sophie does, despite her being raised on the island.

Still, Cher sings at least two songs so the price of admission is worth it. Jessica Keenan Wynn, who plays the young Tanya, is wonderful. More than a Baranski impression, she embodies and exudes the other woman’s confidence and bawdy smirk.

Mamma Mia 2 is wholly unnecessary. But to its credit, it realizes and never pretends otherwise. Though why it feels the need to be a solid two hours is beyond me. Mamma Mia 2 is not for me in the slightest. However, if you’re a fan of seeing performers who range from, decent to Cher, sing ABBA songs-then reader do I have a movie for you.


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