Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is hardly a great film—heck, it’s barely a good one—but I spent nearly its entire running time with a big dumb grin on my face. It delivers on its trailer’s promise: It’s a breezy, sun-kissed, romantic romp filled with good vibes, gorgeous scenery, and ABBA songs. What’s not to like? To some people, a summer film means car chases and super heroes. To me, it’s a film like this: the cinematic equivalent of a juicy beach read.
It’s been 10 years since the original and Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is now fulfilling the dream of her mother (Meryl Streep)— to turn their Greek island villa into a hotel. As we approach opening day, Sophie reflects on her mother’s life and, in particular, her three suitors who have now become Sophie's unlikely trio of fathers (if you recall, Sophie decided not to take a paternity test, instead choosing to have an unconventional family with three dads). So the film toggles back and forth between carefree young Donna (Lily James), arriving in Europe—first France, then Greece—and Sophie’s present day preparations for the hotel as she waits for two of her dads and her mom’s best friends to arrive. (Pierce Brosnan’s Sam already lives at the villa.)
One of the great pleasures of the film is watching the young actors offer their takes on their older counterparts. James makes for a confident, sparkling Donna—she’s not doing a Streep impression, per se, but she exudes a similar irresistible charisma. Other standouts are Jessica Keenan Wynn doing a crack Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Hugh Skinner, bumblingly brainy and geekily charming as a young Harry (Colin Firth). War Horse’s Jeremy Irvine is almost handsome enough to be a young Sam—hey, it’s a compliment!—and, as the younger version of Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), tow-headed Josh Dylan looks like the missing Skarsgård brother.
Without a doubt, you’ve got to suspend your disbelief to appreciate the film. For example, as someone pointed out on Twitter: Donna’s two besties have sported the exact same haircuts since the late 70s, a bit of stunt styling to make the young actresses more closely resemble their older selves. (Donna’s other best friend, Rosie, is played by Julie Walters as a pixie-haired adult and Alexa Davies as a pixie-haired young woman; both Tanyas have severe bobs.) The timelines are completely messed up, too: If Sophie was conceived in 1979, that would make her nearly a 40something now, while Seyfried is actually 32. You also have to believe that Cher—yes, that Cher—is old enough to play Donna’s diva mother, Ruby, even though in real life Streep is 69 and Cher is 72.
But hey it’s a giddy musical, not a statistics class—just go with it and you’ll be fine. Andy Garcia is also on hand flexing his new persona—the foxiest silver fox who ever foxed (he’s playing the manager of Sophie’s hotel). His name is Fernando, which will be meaningful to the ABBA fans in the house.
On top of its message of acceptance and its sneaky feminism (no one judges Donna for bedding three guys in a row), my favorite thing about the film is how defiantly silly it is. All the actors, from the old pros to the cool new kids, just allow themselves to be goofy as hell. Some can’t really sing or dance, but that’s the point—this is an all-inclusive party.