By Eleanor Ringel Cater
My friend says there are two kinds of people in the world:
Those who can’t wait for another “Mamma Mia” movie and those who can.
I’m pretty firmly in the latter camp, but that doesn’t mean “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again” poses a particular hardship. In fact, like a drink with an umbrella, it goes down rather easily. It does, however, lack two things: Meryl Streep and a Greek island.
Not that Streep doesn’t show up — she does, briefly, and she’s incandescent (darn her) — but we learn within the film’s first five minutes that her character, Donna, has died and now her daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), is gamely carrying on. In honor of her mom, she’s about to open a hotel on that sun-kissed Greek isle where the first “Mamma Mia” took place.
Which brings us to the other aforementioned absence: a Greek island. For some reason, the sequel was shot off the coast of Croatia. Not that the place is unattractive, but it sorely lacks the sun-kissed radiance of the real thing.
Anyway, back to Sophie. Her present-day challenges alternate with flashbacks to the Summer of ’79 when young Donna (Lily James), having delivered an all-singing, all-dancing valedictorian speech at college graduation, takes off on her own.
En route to finding herself, she finds, well, not Tom, Dick and Harry, but Harry, Sam and Bill, played, respectively, by Hugh Skinner, Jeremy Irvine and mouth-watering Josh Dylan.
As we know from the first film, they grow up to be Donna’s trio of Maybe Baby Daddys: (Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgard), all of whom, of course, turn up to help Sophie launch the hotel. (As do Donna’s besties, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters).
Playing Meryl Streep at any age would be daunting (maybe even for Streep herself). James, who earlier enchanted audiences in Disney’s live-action “Cinderella,” deserves huge kudos for pulling off a role that seems to be conceived of as high-spirited and curious and fun-loving and…well, high-spirited and curious and fun-loving and little else.
For that matter, kudos to the entire cast for pulling off this smiley-faced bit of summer silliness. Okay, so they’re stuck with a B-Side play list of ABBA’s Greatest Hits. And, as noted, off-shore Croatia ain’t no Greek island. And ‘copter-ing in Cher for a much-publicized cameo as Sophie’s exotic grandmother may strike some as more, um, delightful (?) than others. (Add in Andy Garcia’s Ricardo “Real Corinthian Leather” Montalban-ish extended cameo as The Man From Cher’s Past.)
The point is, the movie very badly wishes to please those who were pleased by the original. And it does…not badly at all.