Film & TV

Dance Camp

Christine Baranski, Amanda Seyfried, and Julie Walters in Mama Mia! Here We Go Again (Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures)
The goofy Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again delivers the songs ABBA fans love.

Near the start of Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, Andy Garcia declares, “I have made my peace with pain.” But enough about The Godfather, Part III. What’s really happening here is a musical-comedy remake of The Godfather, Part II.

Like the middle film of Francis Ford Coppola’s trilogy, MM2 is built around a religious ceremony involving a small child taking place at a vacation spot near a large body of water, and flashes back intermittently to the story of the protagonist’s parent as a young adult trying to launch a business in an unfamiliar country. There’s even an Italian bride named Apollonia, as there was in the first Godfather, though this time she merely gets wet, not blown up.

So it has bit less drama than a Godfather film. But MM2 reminded me that once, in the old Sony building on Madison Avenue, I went to see Ingmar Bergman’s final feature and noticed, as I left, that Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus were at the front desk talking to the receptionist. I don’t think they were there to see the Bergman. But who knows? A gloomy lot, those Scandis. Did you know they exist in total darkness from about November to March? Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again is a splashy romcom-musical containing songs about infidelity (“Mamma Mia”), duplicitous men (“Angeleyes”), breaking up (“One of Us,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You”), getting dumped (“Hasta Manana”), and the fear of getting dumped (“The Name of the Game”). All praise to Benny and Bjorn for bolting together girders of misery with bubbles of melody.

As you’d expect, the film resembles a string of goofy conceptual music videos from about 1983. Those who are made happy by camp will be happy campers, but I’m in it for the melodies, not the feather boas and the electric-blue space boots. Yes, I’m an ABBA lover, and you won’t find a heterosexual man more devoted to those songs than I (except, perhaps, my boss Charles C. W. Cooke). My grudge with the original Broadway musical and its 2008 film adaptation was primarily the ruinous show-tune arrangements, though my ears were also scarred by Pierce Brosnan’s broken-carburetor vocals in the latter. This time, however, those unblessed by singing ability are elbowed off to the side and the songs are closer to the sound of the records. That ripping guitar on “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” for instance? Perfection. A faithful rendition of “Dancing Queen” as presented by a flouncy flotilla of party guests? Works for me. I can never tire of the song.

Those who are made happy by camp will be happy campers, but I’m in it for the melodies, not the feather boas and the electric-blue space boots.

That said, most of the top ABBA tunes were in the first movie, and as there are only a few repeats here, we’re largely stuck with second-raters. “When I Kissed the Teacher” is set at Oxford in 1979, where a younger version of Meryl Streep’s Donna from the first film, this time played with Goldie Hawn–level luminosity by Downton Abbey star Lily James, leads a roomful of dancing scholars in cap and gown. Later, we’re off to France for no reason except a run-through of “Waterloo” with French waiters dressed as the Napoleonic army and a younger version of the Colin Firth character (Hugh Skinner). That number concludes with the domes being lifted off silver platters to reveal the heads of the lead performers, who look startled. Let it not be said that the director, Oliver Parker, is less than fully committed to this material.

As for the plot itself, it’s about as thin as you’d expect. Young Donna makes her way to a Greek island, having affairs along the way with the younger versions of the Brosnan (Jeremy Irvine) and Stellan Skarsgard (Josh Dylan) characters, while in the present day her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is arranging the grand reopening of her mom’s hotel and pining for her absent husband (Dominic Cooper), who is doing business in New York. Donna has been dead for a year, but that doesn’t stop Streep from making a lovely cameo appearance, and though Donna’s mother hasn’t been invited to the reopening, she is going to show up anyway, played to the max by Cher.

When was the last time we saw Cher? I can’t remember. Seems like it was the first Bush administration. One might be forgiven for wondering: Is Cher still altogether necessary? Is the kitsch level not sufficient without her? This apprehension does not survive three seconds of reacquaintance: “Mes enfants, je suis arrivée!” she says. Oh, yeah: Cher. There’s a reason she was big for about a hundred years.

Okay, I’ve loved the song she’s given to sing, “Fernando,” for 42 years, and never before have I heard it on a theater-quality sound system. But still, any moisture detected in the vicinity of my eyeballs is easily explained: It was a hot day. My eyes were sweating.

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