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My my, how can I resist you? ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’

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I love me a movie musical. My deep and abiding affection for the joy and wonder of the genre is well-documented. So it should come as no surprise that I was interested in checking out “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again,” the sequel to 2008’s blockbuster hit “Mamma Mia.”

But here’s the thing – I had never SEEN “Mamma Mia.” This despite not just the aforementioned movie musical love, but an actorly crush on Meryl Streep AND a long-standing affinity for the music of ABBA! It makes zero sense that I would not have seen that film. And so, I rectified that fact before taking in the sequel.

You don’t need me to tell you about the first film, but I can tell you that “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” stays largely true to the unabashedly dorky spirit of its predecessor, packed with impromptu musical numbers and hammy scenery chewing and the inarguably outstanding music of ABBA. It also makes the unusual choice of serving as both a sequel AND a prequel to the original, roughly splitting the story between the two timelines. It is campy, winking and just delightful.

Five years after the events of the first film, on the Greek island of Skopelos, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried, “Gringo”) is on the verge of a grand opening for the hotel she built in pursuance of the dream of her mother Donna (Meryl Streep, “The Post”) who passed away a year previous. She lives there with her stepfather Sam (Pierce Brosnan, “The Foreigner”), one of the three men who she considers to be her dad. She’s got help in the form of manager Fernando (Andy Garcia, “Book Club”), but the build-up is causing strain in her relationship with Sky (Dominic Cooper, TV’s “Preacher”).

She invites her other two dads – travel writer Bill (Stellan Skarsgard, “Bog vs McEnroe”) and banker Harry (Colin Firth, “The Happy Prince”) – and her mom’s former bandmates Tanya (Christine Baranski, TV’s “The Good Fight”) and Rosie (Julie Walters, “Paddington 2”), but she’s worried about whether anyone will actually show up.

The other half of the story is set in 1979. Donna (Lily James, “Darkest Hour”) has just graduated college and has set out to see the world. While in Paris, she meets an awkward young Brit named Harry (Hugh Skinner, TV’s “The Windsors”) and has a night to remember. She makes her way to Greece, only to miss the ferry to the island she seeks. Luckily, a Swedish fellow named Bill (Josh Dylan, “Allied”) has a boat and is willing to help her before heading off for a sailing race. And when she lands on the island and winds up squatting in an abandoned farmhouse, she meets an architect named Sam (Jeremy Irvine, “Billionaire Boys Club”) who becomes a close companion despite being set to leave the island in just a week’s time.

Of course, Donna invites her best college friends to see her newfound island paradise, so Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn, “The Girl on the Train”) and Rosie (Alexa Davies, TV’s “Detectorists”) join her, and so they are there when Donna makes the discovery that changes the path of her life forever.

We bounce back and forth between timelines, watching the respective journeys of mother and daughter unfold as each woman struggles to come to terms with what life on this island truly means to them and what they’re willing to do to continue moving forward on their own terms.

“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” – let’s just call it “MM2” – is gloriously dorky in the best possible way. Too often, movie musicals try too hard to make a seamless transition from stage to screen. The truth is that sometimes, you can just lean into the inherent unreality of a musical on-screen and that will work just fine. That’s the case here – the movie isn’t worried about depth or realism or anything like that; it’s content to rely on the relationships and the music and a deep-down sense of fun.

Much of the original “Mamma Mia” behind-the-scenes creative team didn’t make the transition to the sequel; Ol Parker has assumed directorial duties from Phyllida Lloyd. Parker also wrote the script, though original playwright and screenwriter Catherine Johnson does have a story credit. That does result in a film that doesn’t quite pop to the extent of the original, but overall, it still works well.

It doesn’t hurt that the ensemble is clearly having a fantastic time. Seyfried and James do a fine job anchoring their respective narrative arcs; they’re engaging and energetic and both can sing enough to get the job done. Brosnan, Skarsgard and Firth handle their business – Firth in particular is by all appearances having an absolute blast. Their younger incarnations (Irvine, Dylan and Skinner, respectively) are blandly handsome but rarely all that interesting; they’re OK. Baranski and Walters get after it, as usual – Baranski gnaws the scenery with unmatched flair – while Wynn and Davies do good work as the younger versions; Wynn is the most spot-on of all of the younger versions in terms of looks; her resemblance to Baranski is uncanny.

Oh, and Cher’s back on the big screen for the first time since 2010. No big deal.

And really, we’re here for the songs. And they’re great. The ABBA catalog is riddled with classics and “MM2” isn’t afraid to go back to the well. If there’s an ABBA song you love, chances are it’s in here somewhere.

“Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again” is nothing but what it claims to be, pure and goofy and frothy. It’s not high cinema, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Take a chance on … them.

[4 out of 5]

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