Film review: Mama Mia Here We Go Again

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, July 20th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.

I think we should say here that, whether we like it or not, this film will likely be No. 1 at the box office this weekend. Nick, you can make some joke about “just shoot me now” or some other appropriate male comment for this painful movie.

EICHER: Hey, I can’t lie. And, besides, I think I’m secure enough to admit my eclectic taste in music: I like Abba.

BASHAM: [Laughing] That’s brave, I guess, as brave as one can be admitting to liking Swedish disco.

EICHER: So is it automatic that if you like Abba, you’ll like the film?

BASHAM: Mmm, probably not. You might as well just load Abba’s greatest hits on your playlist.

EICHER: Haha, already did that.

BASHAM: Truth be told, and I’m going into journalism mode here, I have to say this:

By purely objective standards, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” is a terrible movie.

The plot is nonsensical, the characters are clichés, and the song lyrics barely connect to the action.

But the same could be said for the first “Mamma Mia”—and it went on to make more than $6-hundred million dollars. And just like that one, whenever this movie stops taking itself seriously and gives in to the sheer silliness of being a jukebox musical based on some of the airiest pop songs ever written, it becomes infectious in spite of itself.

AUDIO: Music, Sophie sings “Dancing Queen” with the guests arriving for the party

The biggest hurdle the prequel faces is that the story is inherently less appealing.  We sympathized with young Sophie as she tried to sort out which of three men was her father. It’s a little harder to commiserate with her mother’s self-inflicted troubles.

Through flashback, we see the young Donna conduct whirlwind romances with three handsome lads who will eventually grow into Bill, Harry, and Sam, played by Stellan Skarsgard, Colin Firth, and Pierce Brosnan. The part of those romances that creates Sophie’s paternity problem thankfully happens off-screen, so the PG-13 rating is due to what’s implied.

AUDIO: Donna tells Sam they should stay on the island

A storyline like this needs an actress who exudes innocence and optimism to keep it from feeling icky, and the charisma to convince us she could eventually become Meryl Streep. Lily James, best known for Cinderella and Downton Abbey, is more than up to the task.

It would be giving the screenwriters too much credit to suggest there’s a sexual revolutionary agenda here. Really, Donna’s flings are just the most expedient way of shoehorning lovelorn ballads into dreamy montages of white sand and blue Aegean sea. We mostly sit back and enjoy the Grecian scenery and think how surreal it is that no less than three Oscar winners signed up for this.

AUDIO: Music, Waterloo

In between the hokey moments—and sometimes because of the hokey moments—“Mamma Mia 2” boasts the same campy appeal as its predecessor. Perhaps no other music group in history was as adept as ABBA at crafting those ear worms that can either plague or delight depending on the mood of the listener.  If Swedish bubblegum disco makes you smile and sing along, then you will no doubt do so here. Just don’t blame me if you can’t get “Fernando” out of your head afterward.

AUDIO: Music, Fernando

For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.

(Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures via AP) This image released by Universal Pictures shows Alexa Davies, from left, Jessica Keenan Wynn and Lily James in a scene from “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.” 

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