Maybe I was predisposed to enjoy Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, since I vividly remember when my mom and I went to see the first Mamma Mia! all the way back in 2008 and had such a great time that we booked it to the adjoining Barnes & Noble and bought the soundtrack on CD. Maybe ABBA is just the kind of band you can’t not jam to, more than 30 years after their peak. Maybe the introduction of new cast members played by Lily James, Andy Garcia and Cher made this movie into something I didn’t just want to see, but needed to see. I was aware of all of that, yes, but I wasn’t prepared for how much I would love it.
The plot, such as it is, follows Donna’s (Meryl Streep) daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), who has inherited their villa in the Greek isles after her mother’s vague and untimely death. She’s made it into a paradise, complete with sky-blue doorways and photos of her mother on the walls, and has invited everyone from her life, including her three dads, to its grand opening.
Meanwhile, in flashbacks, we see young Donna’s (Lily James) superhero origin story play out her graduation from college and her subsequent jaunt across Europe, which ultimately leads her to the farmhouse in Greece—with pit stops along the way for trysts with young versions of the three men who grow up to be Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard, and Colin Firth. As Sophie negotiates the trials of party planning in the rainy season and a brief bout of marital unrest, young Donna works out her feelings towards sex, love, relationships, and her future. It’s a lot of heavy subjects to deal with at once, but Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again breezes through most of the plot with the lightest of touches to get to the good stuff.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing that the movie is less of a movie and more of a showcase of a bunch of actors singing disco songs in a sun-kissed locale (you can practically feel the white sand between your toes). There’s something comforting about a musical based on songs most people already know. If your favorite ABBA number didn’t make it into the original Mamma Mia! then chances are pretty good it ends up in the sequel. Two of the stars sing “Waterloo” to each other in a Napoleon-themed restaurant, James croons “Andante, Andante” in an airy café, and a rendition of “Knowing Me, Knowing You” slingshots us back and forward in time while the young and old versions of our heroes work out their feelings towards each other. Some of the greatest hits from the first go-round reappear, with a new trio belting out the title tune and a climactic scene set to “Dancing Queen” so transcendently silly and delightful I leaned over to my seatmate and asked, “Am I dead??” And dammit if Pierce Brosnan doesn’t take a few seconds to redeem his mostly disastrous 2008 rendition of “S.O.S.” You did good, Pierce. You’re free.