Film Review: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

Dir: Ol Parker
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Lily James, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Dominic Cooper, Stellan Skarsgård, Colin Firth, Andy Garcia, Cher, Meryl Streep, etc.
Runtime: 1hr54min
Rating: PG-13
Spoiler level: Some small tidbits, but nothing major.

Ten years ago, Mamma Mia! hit theaters. I went to see it with a high school friend and my mom, and was blown away by how fun it was. Now, the theater we saw it in has been remodeled, and our lives have changed significantly over the last decade – but on Sunday, that same friend, my mother, and I all met up for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. And, yet again, I emerged from the theater humming an ABBA tune and quelling the urge to dance all the way to my car.

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Acting as both a sequel and a prequel to 2008’s Mamma Mia!, Here We Go Again is a rom/com musical that follows Sophie (Seyfried) as she attempts to embark on a new chapter in her life, which somewhat mirrors her mother Donna’s (James) journey to Greece back in 1979.

Following in the first film’s joyful, if occasionally silly footsteps, Mamma Mia! Here We Go again is a charming summer romp with plenty of heart and laughter. Amidst the jaunty song and dance numbers, it also offers a surprisingly meaningful message about love and family. Sure, it’s a sequel no one asked for – but let’s be real, here. This film has Cher, and ABBA music. What more could you want?

First, you can’t talk about this film without mentioning the music. Particular highlights for me include “Waterloo,” “Andante, Andante,” “Angeleyes,” “Fernando,” “My Love, My Life,” and, of course, the staples from the original film, “Mamma Mia!” “Dancing Queen,” and “Super Trouper.” I shall forever maintain that there are two types of people in this world – those who love ABBA, and liars. Each number in this film is performed with tangible enthusiasm, and the actors/singers/dancers seem like they’re having a blast and putting their all into it. “Dancing Queen” is a notable mention just for Firth, Brosnan, and Skarsgård. And for those of you wondering… no, Brosnan doesn’t get a solo number this time around, per se. But he does sing a small, acapella reprise of “S.O.S,” and I’m pleased to say it is genuinely touching.

It’s impressive how well ABBA’s music naturally weaves into the situations of the characters… with the minor infraction of Cher and Garcia singing “Fernando” near the end. It’s a wee bit shoehorned in, though there are some clues leading up to it, so it isn’t entirely unexpected. But it’s forgivable because Cher. It’s also worth noting that a lot of the instrumental motifs in the film are throwbacks and tributes to the original film/musical and other ABBA songs, like “Slipping Through My Fingers.”

Told through both the lens of present day and flashbacks to ’79, each part of the film receives the appropriate amount of attention, and focus shifts seamlessly between the timelines. The transitions in this film are immaculate, which aids the film’s intention to “mirror” Sophie’s experiences and feelings with those of her mother, and keeps the plot at a respectable pace. Viewers get to see Donna’s initial meetings with Bill, Harry, and Sam, and how she ended up staying in Greece, giving a visual history to the premise of the first film, and also how Sophie is trying to honor her mother by making the grand opening of the Hotel Bella Donna a success while also juggling her relationship with Sky. The scenery is gorgeous, the costumes are perfect, and there’s a satisfying amount of laughs to complement what turns out to be an earnest and heartfelt message about the relationship between mother and daughter, and finding one’s way in the world when a storm threatens your path.

And, brief spoiler alert, Meryl has very little screen time in this. I was initially disappointed with the fate of her character – but when she does appear onscreen, it’s worth it. As in, I teared up. I’m listening to the soundtrack as I write this and getting emotional again!

The cast must have had a ton of fun filming this – especially the returning faces. Everyone seems to be having a great time, no one phones it in, and the onscreen chemistry is like actual friends reuniting after a long time apart. The finale performance of “Super Trouper,” is the perfect example of this, and I couldn’t stop smiling through the whole thing. The new faces also do an excellent job of channeling their older counterparts – especially Hugh Skinner as young Harry, Jessica Keenan Wynn as young Tanya, and, of course, Lily James as young Donna. James is both sweet and sassy as Young Donna, and her stellar performance carries the ’79 timeline. Basically, everyone in this film is a delight, plain and simple – and fun pretty much oozes off the screen.

The plot may get a little silly at times, and the film timeline is seriously wack, but this isn’t a movie aiming to garner a shelf full of top-tier awards. For what it is, and what it’s trying to do, it’s a total and absolute jam, and well worth the price of admission. Here We Go Again might not have been a necessary sequel, but it’s also not a shameless cash grab – it’s a great time, with a great cast, and great music, the perfect recipe for an entertaining summer flick.

Overall rating: 8/10

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Tale As Old As Time

Some stories contain a message so pure – so resoundingly true, and profound, even in their simplicity – that the words withstand the trials of time, and echo in the hearts and minds of dreamers and believers of all ages.

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Front balcony seats ftw!

I was never much of a “girly-girl” growing up. My older sister played with Barbie dolls, while my favorite was Scuba-Diving Ken. He lost his head in a tragic snorkeling accident and I didn’t much bother with dolls after that. But a part of me has always had a soft spot for fairy-tales, particularly those re-imagined by Disney.  And Disney’s 1991’s animated masterpiece is one of my favorite films of all time, a timeless tale of love and redemption – so when I had an opportunity to get tickets for the stage show, I dove on it.

Last night, my mom, sister, and I went to see the touring production of Beauty & the Beast while it was in York, PA, at the Strand Capitol Performing Arts Center. As a fan of both Disney and Broadway musicals, I was extremely excited to see one of my favorite stories brought to life onstage. I’d seen the touring production when it came to Baltimore over a decade ago, but the only thing I remember about that is getting lost on my way back from the bathroom and missing several minutes of the show. Then again, I was seven. I still have my souvenir rose from that production.

Now, I’m twenty-three. I don’t believe in fairy-tales, and don’t particularly want to be a princess. But there’s something inherently magical about a story like Beauty & The Beast that attracts a variety of different people. While I’m not a fan of children, it was pretty cute to see all the little kids there, excited for the show – and there were lots of little girls in Belle / princess costumes. There were a loads of twenty-somethings, older couples, groups of friends, theater kids, and families.

The theater itself is beautiful, with decent acoustics, and we were lucky to get tickets on the front balcony, so I (a dwarfish 5’3″) would not have to crane my neck to see the performance. By the time the lights went out and first notes of the Overture began, I knew I was in for something special.

During the show, my expectations were met, then exceeded. The musical remains true to the heart of the Disney film, retaining many of the songs, lines, and dialogue, while adding several new elements and expanding on certain aspects that were not a major factor in the film version. There are new songs that help convey the emotions of the characters, and expand upon the humorous, egotistical attitude of Gaston (‘Me‘,) the plight of the cursed objects (‘Human Again,’ originally intended for the film,) the turmoil of the Beast (‘If I Can’t Love Her‘ and ‘How Long Must This Go On?‘,) and an altered version of ‘Something There‘ that expands the romantic development between Belle and Beast.

Each actor/actress suited their role, remaining true to the original characterization while adding their own spirit to the already-familiar quirks of each character. For me, the highlights were Belle (Brooke Quintana), who nailed the ‘Belle – Reprise’ and gave me chills during ‘Home‘, Beast (Sam Hartley) who performed a moving rendition of ‘If I Can’t Love Her,’ my favorite song in the show, Gaston (Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek) who balanced humor, narcissism, and villainy while delivering some of the funniest moments (“I’m especially good at expectorating” is my favorite line, not sure why…), Lumiere (Ryan N. Phillips,), Cogsworth (Sam Shurtleff,) Mrs. Potts (Stephanie Gray,) Babette (Melissa Jones) and Madame de la Grand Bouche (Stephanie Harter Gilmore) as the Beast’s often-hilarious “family” and support system as he tries to become a real “gentleman” and prove himself as a worthy match to Belle. The entire cast, every singing plate, dancing carpet, townsperson, and living statue, enhanced the experience and helped bring the magic of the story alive onstage.

The familiar songs were wonderful, especially ‘Gaston’ with a pretty amazing synchronized cup-clinking interlude, and ‘Be Our Guest‘ which ended in an explosion of streamers. Quite the nostalgia trip. We saw what I believe to be a more ‘streamlined’ version of the musical, as ‘No Matter What‘ and ‘Maison Des Lunes‘ were cut, but that didn’t detract from the production, as there were plenty of songs, both new and old, to enjoy. The orchestra was brilliant, the overall set design was impressive, especially the puppets for the wolves/Enchantress and all of the elaborate moving set-pieces, and the costumes (in particular, for the enchanted objects) were incredible. Even with the changes, the message of the story itself, that beauty comes from within, remains at the core – and shines through each aspect of the show. Also, the dancing rug was a major highlight. Could not stop laughing for a solid minute after he came onstage.

Shout-out to the very nice usher who took at least 6 photos of us until my sister was satisfied.
Shout-out to the very nice usher who took at least 6 photos of us until my sister was satisfied.

My sister isn’t as much of a musical buff as me or my mom (though she does like them), but Beauty & the Beast is her favorite Disney film. I looked over at her as the last notes of the finale rang out in the theater. I was a little teary-eyed, as I am during the finale of almost every musical, but that was nothing compared to my sister. She turns to me, tears coursing down her face, and says, “I’M *EXPLETIVE*-ING SOBBING.” I laughed. Heavily. Which helped prevent me from dissolving into a tearful mess myself. Even my mom got a little teary, which just goes to show the power that a story can have.

The tale of Beauty & the Beast is a simple one. That love can conquer seemingly unbeatable odds, beauty truly comes from within, and that it is never to late to change for the better. Sometimes, the simplest stories are the most memorable ones – the ones that echo in our hearts for years, like a well-loved song. And that is the reason why Beauty & the Beast, in all its forms, truly is a tale as old as time, and always will be.