Movie Hatchet: ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’
Cher looks like a nylon-haired Barbie doll with fewer moving parts
There’s a really creepy website called Plugged In that seems to be run by the Very White Far Right. It’s worth going on it just to count the number of times they say ‘family’ in a paragraph. In their review of the first ‘Mamma Mia’ movie, itself based on a tacky stage play that started in London and won’t go away, like herpes, the site reviewer complains of ‘tail shakes, leg spreads, crotch grabs and pelvic thrusts in the choreography. The Greek island environment supports lots of low-cut, midriff-baring outfits and swimsuits on the girls.’ Discussing the film’s violent content, they say: ‘Donna falls through a trap door and lands on a mattress. Rosie feels the burn when sliding down a banister railing.’
I quite like the site because it’s so extremely focussed on the details of a film that it completely misses the bigger picture – or maybe even that’s intentional, what do I know about the Christian Right? The point is that anyone who goes out of their way to spot violent content in ‘Mamma Mia’ is rocking an agenda that goes over my head.
The original film was merely awful in an artless way, directed so flatly by Phyllida Lloyd that it might have been a series of pastel postcards thrown randomly at the audience; song, connective tissue, song. Obviously it was a huge hit and I’ve now seen the sequel, entitled ‘Here We Go Again’ with the weary sigh of a cancer patient about to go through another bout of chemo.
In this one, due to contractual obligations Meryl Streep is dead but still appears anyway, while Ol ‘Best Exotic Marigold’ Parker takes the directing reins. Streep’s character’s daughter Sophie flashes back to her mother Donna’s golden days, which begin with the young Donna graduating from what appears to be Hogwarts and turning Oxford into the home of jazz-hands choreography. As she hurtles about the unrecognisable university town now devoid of homelesses and tower blocks, she sings a song about teachers, at which point I realised we’d mostly be getting Abba’s B sides this time.
Sophie is a character so instantly grating that you could spiralise courgettes on her. Blonde and entitled, she selfishly dominates the centre of every conversation, ignoring everyone else, seeing but not seeing them, possibly because her wide-set eyes don’t take in peripheral vision. Punctuating every squeal-and-hug convo with a carefree toss of her hair she echoes American foreign policy by moving into a Greek house that isn’t hers and taking a horse that doesn’t belong to her.
Back in the present her daughter does pretty much the same thing, dumping her luggage for the servants to sort out and ignoring the Greek economic crisis by throwing a free opening night party so profligate that even a firework display the size of Hiroshima doesn’t draw people’s eyes from her hair. Just to make the reboot/prequel structure more convoluted we now find ourselves with six suitors, three being younger, less wrinkly versions of Skarsgaard, Firth and Brosnan. This doubling up extends to the female sidekicks, with a junior Walters and a budding Baranski, so that it now feels like we’re getting carbon copies of cover versions from a tribute band’s children.
Calling her hotel ‘Bella Donna’ is tempting fate, as would any hotel named after a poison, but it doesn’t stop Sophie from singing, or the locals from piling in to watch the girls stagger around in sparkly platforms like transvestite farmers with piles. Local ladies laugh and hug each other with delight, banter is attempted, and Sophie barely notices that her old boyfriend has abandoned his own dreams of a well-paid career in New York to come and dance around her on an impoverished island that would in actuality by overrun with Chinese and Russian money launderers. Sophie notices nothing except herself.
The locals are presumably desperate for something to take their minds off the financial crisis. They run a market that has clearly over-ordered on olives and couscous (even though the latter is a Turkish dish, which suggests we might be in Cyprus) and have no customers. This is the cleanest, brightest market in the world but none of the produce is price-marked, which might explain why no-one’s buying. There are no waddling cruise ship tourists in this Greece, just happy Dancing Queens in tailored denim, and even dour Swedish Skarsgaard is happy to wear a shirt that appears to have been stitched from the Raft of the Medusa.
At this point Andy Garcia steps in to consider whether this is where he meant to end up forty years after the Godfather films. He is, of course, Fernando, and by now the cast and director have tossed their postcards into the air and gone off to get drunk. This is also where it dawns on you that you’ve been had – the whole thing is a huge, knowing send-up of Pont L’Eveque-level cheesiness that now jumps track and helicopters in Cher, looking like a nylon-haired Barbie doll with fewer moving parts. Cher is ‘well preserved’, like a campanile that was falling down but saved with steel braces and a lot of plasterwork. Her head turns but the face cannot move so that she looks permanently delighted, and would no doubt look exactly the same if you told her she had just hours to live.
I watch in horror as Cher negotiates a slippy-looking staircase while singing, and wonder if they CGI-ed out her back-harness. Are there mattresses at the bottom to catch her? Andy has come dressed as Basil Fawlty and kisses Cher with the tentative scrutiny of a painter varnishing a dado rail. Will some of her come off on his lips? If she falls over will she smash to bits and have to be pieced back together by experts, like the Portland Vase?
What we need at the climax is a christening (or it might be a wedding, I’d lost count/interest/the will to live by then) and who should attend but the ghost of dead Donna, warbling a ditty about babies or something. Meryl looks like a real human being, and this has the unfortunate effect of making her appear older than her own mother. As she finishes her song she backs carefully out of a church while groping awkwardly for the exit door handles, a metaphor that could stand for the whole movie.
Finally, having abandoned any attempt at being a film, Ol cuts to a stage set, assembling the cast around Cher, who attempts to move her hips without requiring multiple operations, and there’s a fall of ticker-tape, a rather pointless gesture considering we’re watching a film in a cinema, not experiencing it in a theatre.
But what the hell, this is the ‘Blazing Saddles’ of musicals, and as a result is far more fun than it has any right to be, bannister-burn violence or not.