WHEN TANYA (CHRISTINE Baranski) first sees the new hotel manager (Andy Garcia), her immediate response is, “Be still my beating vagina”. This has got to be one of the better penned lines in a movie this year…that’s also one of the year’s most smile-inducing and spirit-uplifting (in a good way) ones.
It’s a clever enough story (OK, it’s gob-smackingly silly. But what-the-hell, it’s ABBA) that parallels the lives and hopes of the original dancing queen, Donna (Meryl Streep) and her pregnant daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried). You no doubt remember that when we first met Donna (in Mama Mia 1), she was anxiously awaiting the arrival of her three ex-lovers, any of whom could be the father of Sophie. In Here We Go Again, we’re introduced to Donna as a young woman (Lily James) who has impulsively escaped the US for the sunnier shores of an idyllic Greek island that she falls in love with (along with that trio of lovers). The story cuts from this past to the present when we meet Donna’s daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) deep in the throes of a celebratory re-launch of her (now recently deceased) mom’s dream hotel.
The idea that holds the enterprise together centres around the debate about free spiritedness and existential abandon v control, conformity and caution. Guess which side wins?
Baby Driver’s Lily James (the young Donna) and First Reform’s Amanda Seyfried (the daughter) are wonderful. They’re both golden haired, lively company with surprisingly good voices. And incredibly, they both manage to inject some verisimilitude and transcend the blonde ditziness of their roles, not to mention the befuddled hamminess of their more celebrated co-stars, the co-fathers (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard) with verve and zest.
The past/present back and forth is buoyed up by the presence of BFF’s Rosie (Alexa Davis) and Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn). The here and now version of these are English comedian Julie Waters and The Good Wife’s Christine Baranski (she of the “beating vagina” whose comic turn almost steals the movie as the unbridled spirit of middle aged horniness).
Meryl makes a cameo performance as the singing ghost of her former self (don’t ask) and Cher as Sophie’s grandmother, herself a face-lifted Botox-blighted ghost of a real person who comes face to face with her own former lover, Fernando Cienfuegos (Andy Garcia) who, of all gin joints of all the towns in the world, is the new hotel’s suave manager. It’s a 90 minute set up for Cher’s love song to him. Yep, he’s Abba’s famous Fernando (the words of which song make no sense at all. But who’s complaining)
The scenery is stunning, the acting is spirited, the dancing is (nicely) Bollywood-esque. But mainly the music’s the thing…that, like it or not, turns us all into dancing queens.
Sort of anyway
MAMA MIA!: HERE WE GO AGAIN. Dir: Ol Parker (Imagine Me and You). With: Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Meryl Streep, Cher, Andy Garcia, Dominic Cooper, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard. Writers: Ol Parker with a story by the brilliant Richard Curtis (War Horse, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Love Actually). Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman (The Grand Budapest Hotel. Bridesmaids). Composers: Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus