So many claim “The Godfather Part II” to be the best sequel of all time. It was only a matter of time for another film franchise to steal the structural sauce of Francis Ford Coppola’s epic. Who would’ve guessed that franchise would be “Mamma Mia?”
The Don figure of the franchise is Donna (Lily James & Meryl Streep), an Oxford graduate who takes a gap year heading to the Greek island of Calicari. Her whirlwind romances result in a pregnancy and Donna dedicates herself to staying on Calicari and running a hotel of her own for wanderlust souls. The musical and initial 2008 film centers around Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and her search for which of her Mom’s three suitors is her biological Father. The sequel employs “Godfather Part II’s” dual timeline structure to further accentuate the familial bond between Donna and her daughter Sophie. In the past, we witness a bright, young Donna gallivant around Europe as she searches for her life’s passion, leading her to Calicari. In the present, Sophie reopens her Mom’s dream hotel as she comes to terms with her own relationship and impending pregnancy.
The first film works primarily because the cast visibly looks like they are having the time of their life. This infectious energy only continues in the sequel, both with the veteran cast members and the new younger set. Lily James finds herself with the unenviable task of having to portray a young Meryl Streep. However, from the opening moments she proves to be not only adept at channeling a young Donna in even the most specific of motions while also adding new flair and vivacity to the role. Her youthful energy further proves to be a great counterpoint to Streep’s performance in the first film. She has this mischievous glint in her eyes that suggests she’s always after a new adventure. In short, Lily James makes a compelling case that she should be our next marquee movie star.
Among the returning players, Amanda Seyfried shows the most growth from the first film. Sophie’s more responsible and realistic as she takes on the task of renovating the Hotel Bella Donna. While Seyfriend improves on this second entry, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters somehow recapture lightning in a bottle as Donna’s best friends – Tanya and Rosie. They light up the screen the second they appear. Baranski’s high kick and Walter’s refusal to follow during “Angel Eyes” encapsulates the magic they have on screen. They wear the thirty years of friendship their characters share in every moment and interaction.
It’s not easy to balance two timelines and sixteen plus characters – both old and new. The film not only achieves this balance but recognizes the need to double down on their supporting characters. We’ve mentioned the genius of Baranski and Walters’ characters. However, Jessica Kennan Wynn and Alexa Davies nail the same chemistry as young versions of Tanya and Rosie. All of the men appear delighted to be included in the fun. Colin Firth is truly having the time of his life. Though Pierce Brosnan’s voice has not gotten better (as evidenced by a hilariously meta moment), his infectious happiness to be filming a movie in Greece stays ever intact. The three young men in the earlier timeline all believably play hunky, sensitive souls that you can believe Donna would fall for, albeit in different ways.
Director Ol Parker takes what one loves about the original film but gives it a glossier finish. He makes the movie look beautiful in different ways based on the period. The scenes in the past paint Calicari as this untouched gem of an island and finds beauty in the rough edges. Meanwhile, the present-day Hotel Bella Donna recalls a hotel Nancy Meyers would design for one of her movies. The movie doesn’t so much play around with continuity. Moreso, it discards it. One could poke holes throughout the film with great ease. Yet, who cares? The film achieves exactly what it wants and gives one a wallop of an emotional punch.
There’s a confidence in the film’s handling of its tone in this go around. If you aren’t interested in a soapy musical that contorts itself to have wall to wall ABBA songs, “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again” doesn’t want you either. The title alone implies the self-aware way the film wears its heart on its sleeve. One moment (during “Dancing Queen” no less) we witness a Titanic homage with Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård. The next moment the film wrings every tear you have left. That’s all without mentioning Cher’s late, earth-shattering entrance to the film. Everything is dialed up to 11, and it would be crime to ask it to turn itself down.