“That’s the best kind of party, little girl.”
Essentially “Karaoke: The Movie,” Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again takes a turn towards dramatic territory that its campy, zany predecessor wisely never really even considered. 2008’s Mamma Mia! – a romp I only recently watched for the first time – knew what it wanted to be and let its colors show through. Now ten years later, Mamma Mia! 2 doesn’t know what form to take. It’s a prequel, a sequel, and a revisitation all wrapped into one garish, sporadic delight. Perhaps experiencing the original right before this new entry was a mistake on my part, because this seaside show tune got old rather fast.
It’s not that Mamma Mia! 2 is that less magical than the first film; if anything, the medley uses the same spell over and over again, mostly to a duller effect, with the charm of its incantation less surprising and more expected as every ABBA hit randomly erupts into the already thin narrative. By taking place in three separate iterations of the same Greek island locale, the story becomes bogged down by the weight of time, and the emotional hook doesn’t really get to settle in. In comparison, Mamma Mia! was the young and wild and free predecessor to this more serious, grown-up adventure.
The grand re-opening of “The Hotel Bella Donna” is set to commence. Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) wants to do right by her late mother Donna (Meryl Streep). Her husband Sky (Dominic Cooper) is off learning the hospitality business, and even offered a job. As Sophie walks around and renovates the getaway spot, we go back in time to see how a young Donna (Lily James) came to call the piece of Heaven her home, and how she came to meet Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), and Harry (Colin Firth). Like most prequels, Mamma Mia! 2 is no match for those who’ve seen and remember the first film. Lily James, as always, commands the screen with energy and beauty, but the flings of Donna’s youth are incredibly tedious because we’ve already been fed the information. If you’re going to tell audiences about three trysts in the original, they better be expanded upon when brought to life. Sadly, they only further anchor down a story that desperately needs to move more.
While the film itself left me in want, hoping for a distraction that was more streamlined and artful, both Mamma Mia! and Here We Go Again – despite their individual missteps – achieve something worth pointing out. In both of these pictures, the sing-a-long nature never feels American Idol worthy or perfectly tuned. These are rough, sloppily choreographed, celebrations of amateurism, assuring the car singers and the shower vocalists that there is a community of folks out there ready to embrace all of the faults and the quivers of your pitch so long as you put yourself into the music. Mamma Mia! 2 gets too serious for its own good, but when it’s playing the role of cinematic carpool karaoke host, holding the mic up for us to join along during the chorus, the film allows us the space to sing ourselves into the most basic parts of its being. Hopefully if there’s a third chapter it’s less maudlin and more manic.
“Life is short. The world is wide. I wanna’ make some memories.”
Rating: 3 out of 5