Friday, July 20, 2018

‘Mama Mia’ sequel offers escape to Greek exotica with love, lust, laughs, ABBA music…plus Cher

By Steve Crum
It was a telling sign earlier this week at a screening when I found that I had been constantly smiling throughout the viewing of Mama Mia! Here We Go Again. I am talking emoji happy face. This sequel to 2008’s Mama Mia! is a delightfully winning romantic-musical-comedy. In a couple of ways, it outshines the extremely popular original.
Directed and written by Ol Parker (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), this second Mama Mia! is both sequel and backstory. The main setting is five years after events in the original movie…and still on the Greek island of Kalokairi. Things have changed, particularly Meryl Streep’s Donna character. Er, the LATE Donna character. Sorry about the revelation, but it would be difficult to present a plot overview with giving away this spoiler. (See the movie for details of her death.) 
Donna’s 25 year-old daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is the main focus here, and is in the midst of restoring her mother’s villa into the Hotel Bella Donna. She sends out formal grand opening invitations to friends and relatives, including her three “fathers,” once again portrayed by Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgård and Colin Firth. (Since she doesn’t know which one is her real dad, she considers all three as papas. You really need to see the first movie before seeing this one.) 
Of course, she invites her mother’s best friends, Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters). As for her husband, Sky (Dominic Cooper), there is a problem concerning his business back home in the USA. Conflicts regarding the weather and Sophie’s health also arise. Thank goodness Sophie is relying upon the hotel’s manager, Hernando Cienfuegos (a nearly unrecognizable Andy Garcia), who is stabilizing Sophie’s efforts. 
Time to back up a bit. Throughout the story, there are breakaways to the late Donna’s 20-something years when she first came to Greece and Kalokairi. These seamless segues occur back and forth throughout the film. Since half the story is a flashback, the young Donna character requires a strong, charismatic, talented actress. Such is provided by Lily James. She sings, dances, and does comedic acting superbly. 
In telling Donna’s history, three young actors portray Sophie’s future “dads”: Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner and Josh Dylan. And Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies are perfectly cast as the young Tanya and Rosie.
The pièce de résistance of Mama Mia! Here We Go Again is Cher’s portrayal of Grandmother Ruby Sheridan. Like seemingly everyone else in the movie, she performs to wonderfully arranged ABBA songs. Ruby makes her grand entrance about 2/3 into the film, and it is worth the wait. 
At the risk of dropping another spoiler, be aware that Meryl Streep’s Donna has much to do with the film’s finale. 
Eighteen (count ‘em) ABBA songs are included…from “When I Kissed the Teacher” to “The Name of the Game” to “Super Trouper.” Some of the numbers were also sung in the first film. 
Maybe the current political climate helps make viewing a movie like Mama Mia! Here We Go Again such a tremendously happy escape. Instead of daily strife and worry, we vicariously live on a Greek island full of love and lust while singing and dancing to ABBA music. Borrowing the tagline for 1974’s That’s Entertainment, “Boy, do we need it now!”
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ADDENDUM: Jessica Keenan Wynn (young Tanya) is part of a showbiz dynasty. Her uncle is screenwriter Tracy Kennan Wynn (The Longest Yard, others); and her grandfather is actor Keenan Wynn (Annie Get Your Gun + 279 movies and TV shows). Then there is her great-grandfather, the vaudeville, Broadway, radio, film and TV comedian-actor Ed Wynn, the laughing Uncle Albert in Mary Poppins.  
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GRADE on an A-F Scale: A-