While ordering the cinema snacks, I noticed a group of mothers and daughters enter the screening of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again that I was about to see. It made me chuckle, thinking about the power of the first Mamma Mia! that led to Wine Moms™ taking over the box office in 2008. The group rushed past, itching with apprehension over how the film could follow a now modern classic. Along with the other women in the cinema, I hoped that we wouldn’t be disappointed.
We weren’t. The prequel-sequel timelines transition seamlessly. The mixture of reprises from the first film to the introduction of forgotten ABBA gems is impeccable. Tanya and Rosie are the perfect comedy duo as ever (both in terms of Julie Walters and Christine Baranski, as well as the younger versions of Alexa Davies and Jessica Keenan Wynn). Cher is a surreal siren that emerges majestically from a cloud of hairspray and glitter. I loved it.
I need to dedicate some time to Lily James though. After watching her in Downton Abbey, War & Peace, Baby Driver, and Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (don’t judge me, it’s one of my favourite movies), I knew that she could give an electric performance. Now I’m convinced though – Lily James has the Midas Touch. To play the younger version of Meryl Streep is an acting Everest, but she does such a stunning job. Whether she’s strutting in the signature dungarees or cartwheeling between orange trees, James conjures up the unbridled joy that defines the film.
There are moments in the beginning that feel cringey though – that make your seat feel slightly less comfortable as you see Europop reincarnations of Napoleon spin on to the screen. These moments are necessary teething though. As Celia Imrie whips a bright yellow feather boa about the place, the film disarms you and shouts, “There will be golden go-go boots and Colin Firth trying to co-ordinate his hips with the rest of his body, but you need to allow yourself to enjoy it”.
There’s a tendency to label films dismissed as ‘chick flicks’ as passive viewing, where it needs little audience engagement. Mammia Mia! Here We Go Again does not adhere to this tired claim. The film forces you to actively abandon your jaded cynicism and stiff upper lip. It’s that feeling of picking up the mic at karaoke or being dragged onto an empty dancefloor; it’s the feeling of deciding that you’re going to drop the façade of pessimism so that you can look like an utter idiot and love it. As Laura Snapes perfectly puts it: “These days there is no more suspicious critical quality than snobbery – dismissing lowbrow culture for being lowbrow is seen as gauche at best, actively prejudiced (when its primary fanbase is women, teenage girls and LGBTQ people) at worst.” Now is the time to pull a Mark Kermode, reassess your arrogance and confess that Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again demands that you get over yourself. If you refuse to warble along to ‘When I Kissed The Teacher’, the problem lies more with you than the film.
If you do allow for the necessary teething however, the film then leaves you vulnerable to its toying with tragedy. Your guard is down and now those golden go-go boot are going to stomp on your heart. I cried. Multiple times. When Amanda Seyfried started ‘I’ve Been Waiting For You’, the hot tears properly started to stream. Luckily, I’m a silent crier. But I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard the previously-mentioned group of women sniffling and choking up behind me. My mum admitted to me afterwards that she couldn’t look at me as she didn’t trust herself to stifle any audible sobs during the ode to the maternal bond.
At the end, despite being given a tiny Easter egg after the credits, I yearned for more. I couldn’t settle for Cher’s parting proclamation of “glitter in your veins” – I needed another hit of even more glitter injected into my veins. I didn’t care if it was more of just watching Pierce Brosnan sipping a pint in iridescent spandex. I would have taken anything.
The group of mothers and daughters erupted into furious thrills of applause when the film finished, and I couldn’t help but join in. I never clap in a cinema for fear of looking like an utter idiot, but I didn’t care because I loved it. I imagine when I watch the film a second time, the initial cringiness will be more digestible. I know for sure though, I’ll still be enamoured by the thought of the girl with golden hair running a hotel on a remote Greek island.