Although I enjoy musicals, the sounds of ABBA, and the cinematic oeuvre of Amanda Seyfried, I wouldn’t say that I’m a knowledgeable expert on any of the above. Hell, I’m barely a casual fan. I can probably name three ABBA songs, and I’d be guessing at two of them.
I also have not seen Mamma Mia! the movie or Mamma Mia! the stage play. I haven’t even looked at its Wikipedia page. (For years, I thought Mamma Mia! was a dinner theater show where the audience pretends to be guests at an semi-improvised Italian wedding. (Does that show even exist? ((If not, can it?)))
But it was about to rain, so I stopped into my local multiplex for a beer and watched Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.
Two hours later, I walked out into a sunny rainstorm with Many Strong Opinions.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, a movie whose trailer already shows you everything that happens, so can you really spoil a surprise-free movie?
25 Reactions to Mamma Mia 2!, in Mostly Chronological Order
1. For a story that takes place on an idyllic Greek island, it sure feels like this entire movie happens in front of a greenscreen. I guess in 2018 even our musicals are mostly CGI.
2. Musicals also require a greater level of buy-in from the audience.
With a normal plot, I might need a few minutes to suspend my disbelief and convince my brain that, yes, Channing Tatum really could be a doctor. But in a musical, I have go through all the normal buy-in steps PLUS accept that people would rather sing their feelings out loud for five minutes instead of talking things out for twenty seconds.
3. Unfortunately, I found the first several songs in Mamma Mia 2! to be more distractingly cringe-y than endearing.
This is a tough start, because those first few songs have to do a lot of work: they need to establish the movie’s tone, its central “conflicts” (more on that later), and especially the magnetic personality of young Donna (Lily James) who is expected to power this entire movie through a flashback. Instead, I’m like, “did Donna really just use her valedictorian speech to subject the entire student body to a self-indulgent choreographed dance number about the time she kissed a teacher, and their response was to skip the diploma presentation altogether and just form a bike mob into the river?”
But it turns out yes, that’s exactly what happened.
That’s because Donna’s superpower is to make the people around her Come Wildly Alive. Which, as heroic powers go, I’d honestly rather see more of onscreen than super-strength or being unwaveringly grim.
4. So… young Donna tells her lifelong best friends young Rosie (Alexa Davies) and young Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) that they are, in fact, going to be friends forever… right as she also tells them that she’s leaving them behind to go travel the world?
This movie is so full of mixed messages, and I completely approve.
5. Let’s pause real quick and point out one of the best things about this movie, which is its deceptively simple story structure.
Flashing back and forth between two timelines is hard to do without losing narrative momentum or making the audience resent getting yanked from the story they’re actually interested in to the one they might enjoy less.
Mamma Mia 2! does this deftly by using the story of Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) trying to open the island hotel that her mother Donna always dreamed of owning as a framing device for the more compelling flashback of how young Donna met and fell in love with three different men at the same time on that very same island. By grounding the action in the same place 25 years apart, Sophie’s adventures in 2005 can serve as a setup or echo for Donna’s adventures in those same streets and rooms two decades earlier.
(To see all of this done much less smoothly, try watching Westworld.)
6. This movie is much better as a movie than as a musical, especially at the beginning. But “Waterloo” is the turning point. Everything from that number on is pretty much smooth sailing.
If you’re a musical fan, you’ll probably love Waterloo.
And if not, at least the remainder of the songs feel more organic to the story or function better as overt performances. But you still have to appreciate the effort on display in Waterloo, even if that entire restaurant is way too personally invested in helping one man lose his virginity.
7. While we’re on the subject, let’s get something out of the way:
It should have been young Bill (Josh Dylan), hands down.
Sorry, young Harry (Hugh Skinner) and young Sam (Jeremy Irvine), but young Bill easily wins the Most Compelling Potential Beau Showdown (Beau-down?).
8. I like to imagine that the actors in this movie are actually playing the same characters from their other movies.
Like Tanya (Christine Baranski) is really The Good Wife‘s Diane Lockhart on holiday.
Or maybe Sky (Dominic Cooper) is just one of the aliases that young Howard Stark used while jetsetting around Europe, and years before he became Iron Man’s dad he fell in love with a girl on an island and HOLY HELL WHAT IF THEIR BABY IS ACTUALLY TONY STARK
9. Speaking of the baby, is this a good time to mention that the trailer is a total mislead?
The alleged plot twist of Sophie’s pregnancy is barely a twist at all — especially because you can’t allege that anything is a “surprise” when it’s literally revealed in the trailer.
Come to think of it, the whole entire movie is in the trailer. Like, half the trailer is just the third act of the movie, which is a pretty blatant violation of trailer editing best practices. But hey, it’s a musical on a greenscreen, so I guess all bets are off.
10. And speaking of Tanya, if they want to expand the Mamma Mia! Cinematic Universe (MMCU) with a spinoff about the many loves and losses of young and current Tanya, I am totally here for it. Who would provide the soundtrack? Blondie? Yeah, Tanya totally seems like a Blondie chick. When can I Fandango my opening night tickets for Call Me! The Loves and Losses of Young and Current Tanya?
11. If you don’t get misty-eyed when young Donna and young Sam rescue that horse, just leave the theater and check into the nearest tomb because you’re already dead inside.
12. I appreciate that this movie doesn’t even try to explain why the same actors in Donna’s island backing band are the same age and wearing the same outfits 25 years later.
Does this island contain the fountain of youth?
Will this all be explained in a future MMCU title?
(If so, it better be all about Alexio, the guy who jumps off Bill’s boat to marry his soulmate Apollonia, because that guy actually looks younger 25 years later.)
13. How old are any of these characters supposed to be, anyway? Is it still supposed to be 2005? Are Tanya and Rosie still supposed to be [checks notes] 47?
14. If they make Mamma Mia 3! in 2028, when Sophie and Sky’s kid is graduating college and falling in love with three amazing women, will they be able to find 10 more ABBA songs that haven’t already been licensed by the first two movies? Or will his movie be composed entirely of Ace of Bass songs?
15. Is now a good time to mention that this movie has no stakes?
We already know that none of young Donna’s romances are going to last.
We know that Donna herself is dead (but howwwwwwww?)
We know the hotel will become a success even though the movie wastes half of its runtime pretending the hotel’s grand opening is in jeopardy despite us all having already seen the party in the trailer.
And even if the hotel’s grand opening was a disaster, Sophie still has a devoted husband, two loyal aunts, and an entire island full of people who would do anything for her, plus her three dads are each European millionaires.
Like, sure, it might rain a little, but I think she’s gonna be okay.
16. That said, I do have newfound respect for Amanda Seyfried’s acting.
Have you ever stopped to think about how weird it is to act in a filmed musical? You have to convey honest emotion through closeups while singing to someone else who’s also doing the same thing. Which means you’re both doing the hardest part of acting and the most artificial form of it at the same time. And you don’t even have the luxury of doing it all straight through, in person, on a stage, in the moment. You have to do it in scattered takes, over and over, in front of a greenscreen.
Despite all this, and despite getting stuck with a storyline that has less inherent logic than a telenovela, Amanda Seyfried is surprisingly compelling as Sophie. She exudes worry and longing and the underlying fear that she won’t be able to live up to her mother’s expectations. And she and her costars do it all without letting their performances or the film as a whole slip into melodrama or self-parody (which, honestly, is forever just one off-tone joke away).
And bonus points to Seyfried and Meryl Streep both for…
17. THAT FINAL SCENE IN THE CHAPEL.
I mean, you’ve been waiting the whole movie for it, and then they finally give it to you and it works exactly like it needs to.
I know that Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is an unnecessary sequel to a pop culture musical made from stitched-together ABBA songs, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be immensely emotionally satisfying.
18. Can we talk about how Cher’s scenes were almost all filmed in isolated closeups, like they only had access to her for 48 hours so they had to film whatever they could and CGI the rest in later?
19. Or how awkward it is to watch world-renowned actors kick up their heels and dance even when dancing isn’t exactly their thing?
It’s a simultaneously humanizing and endearing moment, like realizing James Bond and Mister Darcy are actually self-conscious dorks.
20. And that, honestly, is what this whole movie is all about: ignoring other people’s expectations and living your life to its fullest, in the moment.
That’s how Donna chose to live, that’s why three different men fell in love with her and never got over her, and that’s why an entire island basically adopted her as their own.
As movie morals go, I think we could all use more of that.
21. Which brings me to the last and best thing about this movie: Lily James.
It’s one thing to meet the challenge of portraying a supersized personality like Donna. It’s another to play that character while also knowing that she grows up to become Meryl Streep. Hey, no pressure.
But Lily James kills it.
And she does it while defying stereotypical presumptions of what “a girl like that” should look like or behave like. What she does instead is present herself as natural free spirit who’s comfortable in her own skin as she seeks out the best of what the world has to offer.
Donna’s attitude is what draws people to her, and James fills her portrayal of young Donna with a reservoir of emotion, empathy, and electricity. If she needs a breakout role to fuel her career, I hope this does the trick because she deserves it.
22. It’s also worth noting that the women in this movie are never terrible to each other.
Instead, they perpetually support and help each other, without question, even when that support might not be convenient (or might even be at odds with what they want personally).
Even when young Donna discovers that young Sam is engaged to that redhead in the photo, she doesn’t react by hating the other girl. Instead, she refers to that girl as beautiful, and she feels bad for the pain Sam is likely causing that girl, too.
The women in this film are also rarely flippant to the men in their lives, and when they are, it’s because those men acted unfairly toward them first. By and large, everyone in this film is a generally decent (if occasionally conflicted) person who only wants the absolute best for everyone around them.
Again, as movie morals go, we could all definitely use more stories set in the MMCU.
(Maybe we can start with the redheaded girl in Sam’s photo? Who was she?? Seven movies from now, how many Infinity Stones will she have acquired???)
23. HOLY HELL I JUST REALIZED YOUNG DONNA WAS PLAYED BY THE SAME ACTRESS FROM BABY DRIVER
24. Did I mention that you absolutely don’t need to know anything about Mamma Mia! to fully enjoy Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again? In fact, I feel like the existence of this movie kind of makes whatever would have been in the first one seem redundant in retrospect. Like, I don’t really have any questions that I feel like I need to go back and answer by watching the first one.
25. Now I kinda want to watch the first one anyway.
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EvaD · December 15, 2021 at 3:35 pm
Do you realize all the music was written in the 1970’s/1980’s with no musical in mind? I find it genious that ABBA still lives and is evolving and making their music tangible to more audiences. The generation after mine (X) need to realize way more than just this review.
Aala · January 10, 2021 at 10:45 pm
For Mamma Mia! fans, Here We Go Again! offers a jubilant return to the unapologetically silly world of the original ABBA stage musical-turned movie.