Here We Go Again opens and within minutes we are into our first dance number, with Lily James’ sunshine-like rendition of Donna Sheridan graduating from university. As she gleefully belts out the ABBA classic When I Kissed The Teacher and jokingly flirts with a female lecturer (the opposite of shying away from the female pronouns in the song), I thought to myself, “It can’t get better than this, surely.” And you know what? I was absolutely right.
I love fun. Fun movies. Ridiculous stuff. Comfort films are my bag. The first Mamma Mia film isn’t just a cemented part of my childhood, it’s something I continue to love as an adult despite any faults it carries. I re-watched it in preparation for opening night here and realised I’m more head over heels for it now than I was a decade ago. It’s pure joy set on a gorgeous Greek island and propelled past all its flaws by how much it embraces its spirit and the great music that made it possible. It’s a frenetic and hilarious ride that I’m happy to go on time and time again. I don’t want to analyse it past that, because Mamma Mia is not something intended to be analysed. We all know it was targeted towards women with a sole purpose of having “the time of your life.” I certainly did.
Keeping all that in mind, I wasn’t too excited when I saw the trailer for Here We Go Again despite having a sequel being a dream come true. My first reaction was, “Why on earth do we need to see Donna’s romances with the three male love interests play out when we know exactly how they end?” If these were deep and coherent movies about the dramas of love I could understand, but this is a musical. There was no need. I retain my feelings about that. I adore Lily James—and she was perfect for this, providing some of the only passion in the entire thing—but I had no interest in watching three short-lived romances with actors that were plain as bread. There’s nothing particularly bad about the parts of the film set in the 70s, but they felt entirely worthless in the romance department.
However, I will say there were elements to Donna’s journey that did feel warm and valuable. After seeing her younger self referenced in the original movie and Meryl Streep having such a playful time portraying the character, I was interested to see her wild spirit on-screen again. James brings a warmth to the character I wasn’t expecting. Donna’s desire to find a home for herself and not settle for the mundane is lovable. She’s lovely to watch and listen to.
“Life’s short and the world is wide. I want to make some memories.”
Back to current time on the Island and we are hanging out with some beloved faces going through some rough times. This movie went for a much more emotional tone than I expected it to; sometimes it worked and sometimes it really didn’t. Christine Baranski, Amanda Seyfried and everyone else still hold the charisma that made the first film really pop, but in the clumsily and obviously placed musical cues and choreography it didn’t take long for me to see that Here We Go Again clearly lacks the energy that made the original so easy to love. The bad things stick out way more this time.
Now, I’m not saying it’s all bad. I would definitely watch it again, but there are certain presences and other things missing to really bring the magic and humour I was hoping for. I’m a bit disappointed, but I sat in the cinema tonight with a lot of crying senior citizens, most of who were there with their daughters by the looks of it, and I could tell this film gets one thing undeniably right: motherhood. Sparks of something special truly ended the film on a high note. I’m not overly pleased with what came before it, but perhaps my expectations of reliving what made me fall in love with the first one were just too high.