Maeve Allen looks back at the summer with the sun-drenched, ABBA-filled musical.
Look away if you’re lactose intolerant, this film is the cheesiest of cheese. A Stilton in stilettos, a stinking bishop wearing flares, it’s Mamma Mia 2, fresh from the fromagerie.
And by god is this a cheese board you should sample.
Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is attempting to re-open the Bella Donna hotel in honour of her mother. Melting seamlessly from Sophie’s present to her mother Donna’s past, the story retraces how a young Donna (Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia, now reincarnated here as Lily James) came to find herself pregnant and alone on an Aegean island. Though the original cast do make a comeback, fantastic flashbacks show Donna leave university and travelling in Europe. Remember Sophie’s fathers from the first film? Harry, Bill and Sam (Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Pierce Brosnan) reappear here as their young selves, all three falling for the fearless Donna.
Young Harry, played by Hugh Skinner of W1A fame, is perfectly cast for the Bumbling Brit. Locking himself out of a hotel room, his appalling attempts to speak French display all the gawkiness and embarrassment of a stereotypical Englishman. In his battle to get Donna to bed, Harry’s weapon is a wonderfully choreographed whirlwind to ‘Waterloo’. Set in a Parisian brasserie, with the waiters as backing dancers and the diners as ensemble, his persistent persuasion is successful and Donna agrees to take his virginity. Then, as Donna travels to Greece, she falls for young sailor Bill (Josh Dylan). His enticing rendition of ‘Why Did It Have To Be Me?‘ will leave you shouting, “Why can’t it be me?”, before booking a one-way ticket to Sweden in search of your own Scandi boy with a sailing boat.
But it’s the slick, motorbike riding, American Sam (Jeremy Irvine) who really makes Donna swoon. She is so enamoured by him she can do nothing else but run through orange trees in slow motion. But Lily James leaping in love (painfully cheesy by the way, it feels like being dunked in blistering fondue) does not last for long. Smooth Sam breaks Donna’s heart and the musical number ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ conveys all the burning anger and anguish of true heartbreak. Donna’s story is one of fabulous fun and freedom, but when finding herself pregnant, not knowing which of the three is the father, it’s her determination, resilience and independence that make her character so powerful.
All the sparkle of the seventies makes the modern plot seem sluggish by comparison. Sophie and her partner Sky (Dominic Cooper) are ripped apart by their new jobs in the – wait for it – luxury hotel industry. When Sky is offered a new job in a swanky New York hotel, the lovers must reconcile their romance with a burning desire to serve tourists continental breakfast until 10am. It’s Romeo and Juliet meets The Hotel Inspector. Cooper’s part was so lifeless that a soggy spanakopita could have sung ‘One Of Us Is Lying’ with as much energy and certainly would have saved on production costs. If this creaking false jeopardy isn’t enough to make you scream S.O.S and flee the cinema, then the killing off of (spoilers) Meryl Streep will. Sacrilege. Enough justification to turn writer Ol Parker to taramasalata.
But cast your cynicism into the sea and embrace the mourning of Meryl – the films tender portrayal of loss is something to stick around for. It’s Old Sam (Brosnan) singing to a photograph of his departed wife, Old Rosie (Julie Walters) bursting into tears at the very mention of Donna’s name, but most importantly, it’s Sophie’s re-connection to her mother. Like Donna, she too finds herself pregnant and alone. Did you ever think you’d ever find yourself sobbing to the singing ghost of Meryl Streep? No? Think again. When Donna reappeared singing ‘My Love, My Life’, the whole cinema melted into snivelling wrecks, snotting into our popcorns.
Where the men in Sophie and Donna’s lives seem to desert them, the women stick around for support. Donna’s Dynamos, Tanya and Rosie, return as Sophie’s maternal figures, bearing the warning of the dangerous male ‘Angel Eyes’. Sofia, supporting young Donna as if she were her own daughter, delivers a caustic rebuttal to a regretful young Sam, “it’s called karma and it’s pronounced HA!”. It’s these enduring female friendships that make the film so fantastic.
Of course, I can’t go on without talking about Fernando. Fernando (Andy Garcia) and Grandma Ruby (a papier-mâché balloon of Cher’s head) duet in a ridiculous rekindling of a former flame. This musical matchmaking is bizarre, implausible, and hysterical in the best way, and the highlighting moment of the entire cheese festival.
I truly loved this film, in all of its cheesy glory. Stay till the credits to see Pierce Brosnan in spandex. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll briefly consider buying flares. And you will never, ever, get ‘Super Trouper’ out of your head.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again had its UK release on July 20th, 2018. Check out its trailer below: