The biggest advantage of Mamma Mia! – Here we go again is that it comes in as the long awaited offering for a very large group of fans of the hugely successful ‘Mamma Mia!’ from a decade back, who have been craving for long to croon and swoon to the sheer nostalgia of #ABBA on screen again! But that is also the biggest disadvantage of the film in terms of the expectations it comes with, because in spite of being a frothy minimally scripted film, the 2008 film was a tremendous entertainer with a highly engaging cast, who made the most out of nothing through their rock solid screen presence and ever so charming rendition of the golden ABBA classics.
It was dollops of sheer musical nostalgia on screen which brightened the light hearted, well shot, and warmly enacted romedy. And why wont it be when we had the ever graceful and brilliant Meryl Streep, the sunshine bright Amanda Seyfried, and the rest of the charming cast perfectly performing to the ‘Mamma Mia title track’, ‘Winner takes it all’ or ‘I had a dream’ and more in the original film, making a full on roller-coaster entertainer.
A decade later, the new film by director Ol Parker comes in with a truckload of legacy and expectations. In this current avatar, its both a prequel and a sequel to the original film. We get to understand that Sophie (Seyfried) is all set to relaunch the lovely island hotel property of her mother Donna Sheridan (who is no more), and constantly feels the presence of Donna in all her inspirations. Its a grand occasion and hence the stage is all set for the reunion of the original cast of film mainly led by Seyfried and Donna’s two best friends (Julie Walters and Christine Baransky), and Sophie’s three dads (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard), all of whom Donna dated at some point of time as she set out to realize her dreams in the beautiful island many decades ago. The film cuts across to those times following the life and times of the young Donna played by Lily James, along with her friends; and keeps transitioning between the two periods. Unfortunately the transitions aren’t blended in too well for a large part and give a jarring impact at many places, other than in a few songs – the special one that deserves a mention is the goosebumpish beautifully recreated ‘I have a dream‘ when the two periods transition as smoothly as finely whipped cream!
Now there is a lot happening on both the periods with a lot of characters, but sadly it is all so loosely bound that it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. The first edition benefited with a wonderful chemistry between Streep and her gang of girls, plus the entire plot around who is the real father of Seyfried made up for a light happy viewing. Here, since the current track doesn’t have any Donna for the most part, there is very little of joy in the air. So even when a boat full of people are swaying to ‘Dancing Queen‘, its not as much genuine organic fun as it could have been. Similarly the binding in the past track appears loose, and even though Lily James is super vivacious and very charming as the young Donna, somehow her chemistry with her young buddies is not as warm, and hence when the ‘Mamma Mia’ title track is happily played, its not as electrifying as it sounded a decade back.
The other thing that didn’t work very well for me was the whole track around Cher as Donna’s mom, that appeared convoluted and a forced high to build a climax. Cher has her own superstar aura, but it somehow does not gel too well into the old charming world that Parker is trying to re-establish. Though I loved ‘Fernando’ which needed the build up of Cher, but the entire air around her remains clumsy overall.
And boy, did I miss the presence of the ever effervescent Meryl Streep for the most part of the film! When Sophie feels and sees her towards the end, it only feels like some sort of a consolation for hungry souls like me. I so wish there was more of Streep out here, because that alone along with the lack of any major script structure will pull the film down for a large part for many.
Amidst all this, what works pretty well (as expected) is the nostalgic charm of the 40 year old pop tunes, and their neat integration within the narrative. Or should we say, they are the film’s actual narrative, and it doesn’t matter that its a mixed bag of the highly popular and not so popular songs together. They are always a pleasure to listen to, and are all rendered with full upbeat spirits. So when the ‘Super Trouper’ plays in the end to bring together the entire cast under one roof in a well choreographed song, everyone smiles again and all ends well.
That’s what this franchise is all about. Its meant to be enjoyed in its fully flawed ways. Don’t think much, don’t analyse much, just ensure that your sensories are all rejuvenated with the beats of a terrific musical that is primarily built around the mantra of…
“I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see”
With Mamma Mia, you get there, in parts!