It’s Saturday night in my small provincial hometown. I’ve been back home from Oxford for a month. There are only so many times I can listen to Sean Paul’s Temperature in our one nightclub before I lose my shit. Trump’s recent visit and this heatwave mean I am increasingly worried about the twin crises of fascism and global warming.
I need the sweet release of ABBA, I need Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.
The story picks up about a year after the first. Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is trying to bring her mum’s dream of opening their beautiful Greek hotel to fruition, despite Donna (Meryl Streep) having died off-screen soon after the first film ended. The film cuts between Sophie’s struggles to reunite the old cast for a grand opening, and flashbacks of how young Donna (played exuberantly by Lily James) met each of Sophie’s three dads on her journey to find the Greek island we now know and love.
Despite most of the songs this time around being ABBA’S failed B-sides, the musical numbers are still surprisingly good (in a bad way). My favourite has to be the reprisal of ABBA’s 1974 Eurovision-winning hit, ‘Waterloo.’ Taking place in a restaurant filled with dancing waiters dressed in Napoleonic garb, the staging makes ABBA’s profound and transhistorical extended metaphor between the 1815 Battle of Waterloo and the realities of love in the seventies come alive. ‘The history book on the shelf/ is always repeating itself’ – how right they were.
Meryl Streep was incredible in the original film; she approached the performance of every ABBA hit like a Shakespearean soliloquy, with dead seriousness and true professionalism. So I am nearly as devastated as Pierce Brosnan (who forlornly stares at photos of her for most of the film) at her untimely and mysterious death before the film’s opening. The lack of Meryl, however, is made up by Lily James, who, whilst shagging her way around southern Europe, copes incredibly well with the implausibility of the plot, looking like she actually believes it. (If I was her I would have asked why neither Donna or her three lovers had any condoms?)
I also refuse to believe that Julie Walters and Christine Baranski, wandering around the island in matching kaftans, getting massages from handsome Greek men, and ultimately both getting snogged, are not the icons of 2018 we deserve.
And just when you might begin to tire of it all, Cher appears in the last twenty minutes to bring the whole endeavour home. I will not hear a word against her, her rendition of Fernando, or the fact that she is meant to be playing Meryl Streep’s mother despite being only three years older than her.
It is worth briefly mentioning that this is a film about a load of wealthy, straight, white people cavorting around a Greek island with an eerie lack of actual Greek people, and very few people of colour in any speaking roles. Although it is arguably important to problematise this (and what it says about the film industry), Here We Go Again, along with its predecessor, has made millions of people (not all of whom are wealthy, straight, or white) happy, and such escapism in itself is no bad thing.
Interestingly, other critics seem to have been unusually kind to the film, too. This is weird because as much as I loved both films, in terms of objective quality, Here We Go Again (aside from some swish cinematography and the odd self-aware flourish) is definitely worse than the first: as I said, there’s a consummate lack of ABBA bangers (the first film used most of them up), the plot is even more ridiculous than its predecessor and built to crowbar in as many ABBA songs as possible, and Pierce Brosnan is still literally the worst singer I have ever heard. A cynic might suggest that critics today are less likely to criticise something popular with women and the LGBTQ+ community, fearing the wrath of collective millennial outrage and accusations of snobbery. Or perhaps, in these trying times, they have just realised that there is nothing wrong with incredibly fluffy, extremely watchable escapism.