Friday, July 27, 2018

Film Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Sexuality/Nudity Mature
Violence No Objection
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

I was not a fan of the first film.  And this second film feels like they are wringing as much good will as they can out of that already dry rag.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again takes place about five years after the first movie.  Donna (Meryl Streep) is dead.  Her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is opening up the Greek isle hotel to honor her mother's dream.  Her mother's friends Tanya (Christine Boranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters) and Donna's widowed husband Sam (Pierce Brosnan) try to bolster her up as she deals with the pressures of the opening and marital strife with her husband Sky (Dominic Cooper).  Her other "dads" Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and Harry (Colin Firth) are busy and cannot come.  While dealing with all of this, we are given flashbacks of young Donna (Lily James) as she travels to Greece and meets young Harry (Hugh Skinner), young Bill (Josh Dylan), and young Sam (Jeremy Irvine) along with young Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and young Rosie (Alexa Davies).

The first thing you are going to notice is how the filmmakers are scraping the bottom of the ABBA barrel.  The opening song has young Donna give a valedictory speech that turns into a song and dance number of "When I Kissed the Teacher."  Not only is this an ABBA song I've never heard before, but in the #MeToo era it comes off as more uncomfortable than funny.

To be fair, this film does a much better job with the choreography than the last one, which was incredibly lazy in its dancing.  A lot more effort has been made hear, which is apparent by the cute rendition of "Waterloo" in a French restaurant.  But, like the last movie, it feels like the songs were shoehorned into the story to make them fit.  At one point we are introduced to an elderly hotel manager is introduced played by the great Andy Garcia.  I turned to my wife and asked "How much do you want to bet his name is 'Fernando?'"  The script has little wit or imagination.  Nearly everything feels like a retread.

The first half of the movie is a bit on the distasteful side as young Donna bed hops to three different men in rapid succession: one out of pity, one out of desire, and one as a rebound.  I'm sure this is meant to show her as an empowered woman who takes control of her sexuality.  But it instead makes the sexual act feel cheap.

However, as the movie progresses, there is an odd maturing process.  The older characters find more meaning in marital fidelity.  And others come to grasp the importance of family above all other things.  The movie wants to have it's moral cake and eat it too.  It wants to enjoy the amoral freedom of youthful pleasure-seeking and then have the mature fulfillment of faithful and loving relationships.

The performances are actually better than this movie deserves.  From the trailers I thought that the younger versions of the characters were going to be pale imitations of some already uninspired performances.  But these actors not only captured the spirit of their older counterparts but gave them a lot of life and energy.  I was particularly impressed with Dylan as young Bill who was able to effortlessly effuse charm and showed some very nice dancing talent.  It made me wish that the material was better so that these actors could shine more.  Cher shows up towards the end.  And her vocal talent is such that it puts most of the cast to shame.

As we approach the last act, the film throws all logic and rationality to the wind and embraces a completely festive tone.  It is actually a bit admirable the way the movie basically says, "We are just going to have a lot of silly fun and if you don't like it, then that's your problem!"  There is a boat sequence set to "Dancing Queen" that pushes the movie into a full-throttle musical cheese-fest, but without any apologies or winking at the camera.  This is your middle-aged uncle dancing with abandon on the dance floor at the wedding, and he doesn't care because he's having a great time.

And now, if you will indulge me, I need be a little more personal here.

When my mom went into the hospital last year, she became very understandably depressed by her prognosis.  We would visit, but there would often be a pallor of sadness that hovered over her.  When this happened, there were only three times I saw her light up and the shadow fade.  The first was when I brought my wife to visit her in the ICU.  The second was when I brought her grandchildren to see her after chemotherapy.  And the third was when we were flipping stations and Mamma Mia! was on.  On that third one, she smiled and her feet moved along with the music.

When my wife and I went to the theater on Friday, we bought a ticket for each of us and for my dearly departed mother.  The whole time we imagined her sitting next to us.  When the "Dancing Queen" number began, I couldn't help but smile because no matter how flat the movie had been up until that point, that number was full of fun.  I could almost see my mom sitting next to me, feet moving to the music, singing at the top of her lungs in the theater and not caring because she would be having a great time.  And I began to weep openly at the thought of it.

Sometimes things don't have to be good to enjoy them.  They can simply touch our hearts in a special way.  I can't say Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again is a good movie.  But, for reasons that are personal, it moved me.

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