I write this review drinking a chilled glass of white wine at nine o’clock on a Tuesday evening because I am sure that this is the version of ‘best life’ that the characters of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again would want me to lead. It’s a pointless endeavour really, the only valid answer to the question ‘Is it good?’ is to shrug, let out an easygoing sigh and say with a carefree smile, ‘Who cares?’
I started going to the cinema seriously at around the same time that Adam Sandler stopped doing so. I’m not sure why I return to Happy Madison productions with the regularity that I do. They’re often not good, they’re not educational, watching them doesn’t make me a better person. It’s a comfortable place to be in cinematically, they’re unthreatening and ask literally nothing of you except to turn a blind eye to their weird racist, sexist, homophobic content.
I remember at one point a few years ago, home alone around Christmas while the rest of my family were visiting relatives I settled into a personal screening of Dennis Dugan’s Grown Ups 2. Here’s a film about an extraordinarily wealthy man who moves with his wife Selma Hayak into a mansion in his old hometown. There he gets to spend his life reliving his adolescence with his childhood friends in a world devoid of stakes, threats and drama. In the opening scene he is attacked by a moose which then pisses on him, yet because of the rules these movies work on he’s the valiant hero for protecting his wife.
I was reminded of that flick when watching the new Mamma Mia!, specifically the myopia of Sandler’s vision. That movie is about the closest he’s come to making a pure chill out joint, and its version of a safe happy place is a retreat into the comforts of a simpler time. This film is about forging a path, following characters who find their comfort in places new and unfamiliar.
These characters are equally happy chasing their respective blisses, but find themselves doing so through the act of creation. Their passion is reflected in the sheer exuberance of the musical numbers that come pouring out of the characters and off the screen like tremendous outpourings of unsullied and unironic love. Who cares that the best Abba songs were mostly used up in the original? Who cares that the numbers are goofy and stupid and usually have an extremely loose relationship to the content of whatever scene they interrupt? They’re pure and unfiltered in this earnest way that is so beguiling.
In the present day Amanda Seyfried is preparing for the grand opening of the hotel that her late mother spent her life building. In the seventies we watch Lily James, in the role of the mother, meet the three men who will each take part of the role of father for the daughter yet to be born. Both are searching for a sense of belonging: the mother for a place and purpose of her own outside of the domineering figure of her own mother. The daughter is struggling with the exact same thing.
See how the film interrogates the nature of stewardship, of both your young and of our elders’ legacy. It don’t really get too tied down in this way though. It mostly wants to be about beautiful people enjoying themselves on a Grecian island, listening to them sing the hits of one of the most successful pop outfits of all time.
It feels wrong to even call it a trifle. I love trifle, underrated dessert. The film’s basically a cupcake, light and airy, delicious but only lingering a moment on the palate.
But who cares? Seriously. People watched Grown Ups 2 for whatever shitty masculinised version of escapism it represented. There are precious few films that choose to depict a feminine version of a utopia. Independent businesses, supportive families, beautiful locales, meaningful and fulfilling labour, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters drinking wine and eating cake, Swedish music.
The film has all the ingredients of greatness, and even a sloppily made cupcake tastes great when put together with love.
Mamma Mia! Here we Go Again is currently screening in UK cinemas.