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by David Appleford

In the business world of cinema, there are two major seasons that count: the summer releases and the Christmas/early winter ones.  Of course, to the movie buff, the whole year is important, but for the studios, it’s those two major periods where Hollywood really invests; the middle and the end.  And there’s so much at stake.

Seasonal Christmas fare aside, for November and December, it’s the quality stuff that counts; the potential Oscar material; the two-people-talking-in-a-room films where acting and a well-written screenplay are just as important as a CGI effect. For the summer months, it’s those tent-pole, super-hyped movies that count; the sequels; the prequels; the CGI spectacle; and there’s a ton of them. And it’s not just the ever increasing production costs that matter; the hype, the junkets, and the advertising budget alone costs a fortune.

If the film is a hit, it’s where promotions are given, bonuses awarded, and power extended.  If the film flops, it’s where jobs are lost. Through a window, those remaining can see a once influential exec walking back to his or her car parked in a space that is already no longer theirs, carrying cardboard boxes filled with articles that used to adorn their desk or office walls. Some are never seen again.  Others return from time to time, trying to pitch a new idea, hoping that one day their name will once again be painted in their personal parking space.

Due to unfortunate and unforeseen circumstances, the worst thing that could happen to a film reviewer this past summer happened to me.  I was forced to take a hiatus. The whole summer. That meant missing a slew of new releases. When the next film review is your daily fix, having to miss so many big ones, night after night, can make things feel just as damaging as the health issues that made you sick in the first place.  A lengthy convalescence is one thing; missing so many films for several months is another.

However, on a morning when waking up and the room wasn’t spinning, the feverish symptoms were absent, and the mind felt more together than it had the day before, I ventured out to a carefully chosen, early morning matinee.  I didn’t take notes, there were no reviews to follow, it was just for the fun of it.

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It’ll be out on DVD, Blu-Ray, 4-K, and an assortment of streaming services soon, so if you haven’t seen it, treat this as a kind of official critique.  

Title: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
Reason for Going:  It’s a musical, silly.

It is said that on any given day, somewhere in the world, in at least seven different cities, ‘Mamma Mia!’ the live stage musical is in performance, and it shows no sign of stopping. Those monthly residuals to playwright Catherine Johnson who created the show must be incredible.

The success of the jukebox musical is truly phenomenal, so it was never a surprise that it would become a movie.  A big screen version was released in 2008 and again, no surprise, proved equally phenomenal. What did raise eyebrows, however, was there were rumors of a movie sequel. Clearly, hindsight in the film world is always 20/20, and now it makes good business sense to think that eventually a follow-up to a global hit was going to be made, but before it happened it was just never expected.

Unlike the first outing, ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ is a film original; there’s no stage version upon which the story is based.  The end result? It’s a hoot. And it’s totally bonkers.

In its structure, the film is less Hollywood and more Bollywood, the kind where songs are shoe-horned in at the drop of a hat for the slimmest of reasons.  The opening number when a young Donna (an outstanding Lily James) is graduating from university and bursts into ‘When I Kissed the Teacher’ is proof enough, but when the school’s Vice Chancellor (Celia Imrie) joins in with her own chorus, then you know it’s really getting bizarre.  

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The same can be said for Cher’s big song.  The film has this guessing game of whether grandma Ruby Sheridan is ever going to turn up for the big party on the sun-kissed Greek island. Her invitation was torn up. Considering that the singer’s face and her name is all over the poster, there’s hardly any guessing required, though what most audiences probably didn’t suspect was that her appearance comes right at the end with only ten minutes or so of the film left.  And she basically sleepwalks through her scene, looking like no grandmother I’ve ever seen. But the point is, when she arrives, she takes one look at handyman Andy Garcia in the crowd, remembers him from her past as being called Fernando, and guess what song she sings. It’s truly bonkers.

Here’s what’s important, and it’s why, despite the film being completely loony, it’s still a great time at the cinema:.  The songs. Those wonderful songs of ABBA. Let’s face it, whether you like them or not, that’s not the point. They songs are indestructible. When Swedish musicians Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus wrote their lyrics, always remember, they were writing in a second language. There was no vagueness in the meanings, no ambiguity in the way an English or an American pop/rock lyricist often writes. They didn’t know how. Each is a story song with a specific theme. ‘The Name of the Game’ is about a woman talking to her psychiatrist, ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ is about a mother watching her daughter go to school for the first time, ‘Super Trouper’ is about being under the spotlight of a Scottish theatre miles away from home (and perhaps the only song that can boast a lyric that rhymes with ‘Glasgow.’) They either tell a story or convey conversational dialog in musical form.  With just the smallest of lyrical tweaks, they work as hooks to a musical. Plus, as a bonus, Pierce Brosnan doesn’t get to sing; pinch me, I must be dreaming. And that’s all we need to know about ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.’

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If you don’t find yourself surrendering to the party, then there’s something wrong with you.  A commentator for ‘The Onion’ said it best, so I’ll paraphrase him rather then try to better the statement. If you know you’re not going to enjoy the Abba musical, here’s what you need to do.  Reach around and pull the stick out of your butt. Then relax and enjoy. You’re welcome.

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And for the record. Those glittery spandex costumes that the four members of ABBA wore in the early days of their decade long career served a certain purpose. The outlandish, glamrock appearance may have got the foursome noticed, but the real reason for their appearance is less showbiz than you think. At the time of their win in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974, before they became gazillionaires, there was a law in Sweden that gave its citizens a tax break on clothes that could only be worn at work and not for everyday use. The next time you see an ABBA video or a publicity shot of their Waterloo days wearing sparkling platform boots and spandex, don’t think Gary Glitter, think tax returns.


And finally, a parting thought.  Once the clean bill of health came through and I could finally leave the house, the first press screening I attended for an official review was ‘The Happytime Murders,’ the one with the f-bomb dropping muppet-looking puppets, the one that used as its tag line, “From the studio that was sued by Sesame Street.”  Yes, that one. Upon reflection, maybe I left the house a week too early.