Did we really need a sequel to 2008’s Mamma Mia!, the frothy movie based on an even frothier musical, which itself was conceived as a tribute to the 1970s Swedish mega-pop group ABBA? Regardless of the answer to that question, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again landed in theaters on July 20. Jezebel writers Esther Wang and Sheena Raza Faisal went to see the sequel starring Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, and Cher (!). Here are the findings. [THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS!]
Sheena: I went to watch Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again with a pretty terrible hangover. I had spent the previous night helping my friend as she threw up out of an Uber window over the Brooklyn Bridge. So all I wanted was to be taken in the tender and loving vocal embrace of ABBA, so I could lip-sync and dance around in my seat.
Esther: You’re a good friend! I have a confession to make: I am a hardcore ABBA enthusiast. I saw the original West End production that the first movie is based on, and to the dismay of my friend who came with me 10 years ago to the opening night of the first Mamma Mia! movie, lustily sang along to all of the songs in the theater. My one regret in life is that I didn’t go to the ABBA museum in Stockholm, Sweden when I was there last year. Which is why it pains me to say that the sequel is… not good. I wanted some mindless fizzy bedazzled summer fun set to a banging soundtrack, and what we got instead was young Donna singing “When I Kissed the Teacher,” a song that I’m upset I have to quote the lyrics to (“Couldn’t quite believe his eyes, when I kissed the teacher/My whole class went wild/As I held my breath, the world stood still, but then he just smiled/I was in the seventh heaven when I kissed the teacher”).
Sheena: Yes! Agree. I know Mamma Mia! at its core is a franchise about rich white women having fun, so my expectations were not that high to begin with. But I would have been perfectly happy watching Lily James prance around in an Anthropologie catalog’s worth of flowy tops, if the film had given me just a little bit more to work with.
Esther: And [SPOILER ALERT]—damn they killed off Meryl! RIP Donna. Also, did you notice how young Donna kept on saying, “You should know that I never do that” before she slept with the three hotties? For a movie that’s partly set in the late 1970s, I found the attitude towards sex to be pretty retrograde and also out of character for her.
Sheena: Seriously, are we not past this whole “I’m not the type of girl who does this” thing? If we aren’t, we really should be because it is truly gross. We get the tired like, ’80s era romantic comedy trope of men trying hard to woo Donna, until her reluctance gives way. Especially true with young Harry: at one point she sings the lyric “Waterloo, couldn’t escape if I wanted to” while Harry literally drags her across the dance floor, which made me more nauseous than my hangover did.
And young Bill, in a particularly creepy move, refills his spare bed with junk to make sure Donna has to share a bed with him. This movie could actually have been a pretty great opportunity to show young Donna having casual sex, taking charge of her sex life, or at least growing into it in that awkward and sometimes messy way that a lot of young women might have related to. Instead we got some pretty icky scenes, what felt like coercion at some points, and not even any fun conversations about casual sex.
Esther: I just remember the first Mamma Mia! being... hornier? Definitely cheekier. I’m thinking of Christine Baranski’s character Tanya in particular and her rendition of “Does Your Mother Know,” which I adored. I get that the sequel focuses on how Sophie is coping with the loss of her mom, and there were some sweet moments that (maybe!) made me tear up, especially towards the end, but it felt like some of the energy of the original was gone. It was trying to thread the needle and be both a tearjerker about family and loss and a campy musical based off of the b-sides of what is truly the corniest band of all time, and it didn’t really succeed. For me!
Sheena: Also a lot of the scenes in the Amanda Seyfried timeline looked like an ad for Gap.
Esther: To be honest, I am probably the last person who should review a movie-musical. I’m of the personal opinion that most musicals are mediocre at best but really trash. It’s an artform where all of the components are typically just not very good—the music, the dancing, the acting. (And before you ask—yes, even Hamilton.)
Also, can we talk about Cher?? I can’t believe they made us wait almost an hour and a half for her, and then she showed up wearing a blonde wig and a power blazer from the 1980s.
Sheena: And that last musical number, where all the older actors sing with their younger counterparts? That was an absolute fever dream. Maybe I’m too young to understand what the costumes were supposed to be referencing, but it looked and felt like a cosplay convention to me.
Esther: I did enjoy watching Pierce Brosnan valiantly struggle-sing again though, bless his heart. If there is a sequel to the sequel (and I can’t even imagine which songs they’d choose from the ABBA archives for that one), I would love for it to be 90 minutes of just Pierce singing and Colin Firth dancing.
Sheena: Wait, is it just me or did all the young versions of the men Donna slept with look vaguely like Matt Smith?
Esther: Wait, who is Matt Smith? [Ed. Note: Esther now knows who Matt Smith is.] I also have a few outstanding questions. How did young Donna not get splinters all up in her ass when she slid down the banner in the old rundown villa? Why do we care about Sky, Sophie’s husband, again? How is Cher old enough to be Donna’s mother? I guess Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is really about the fluidity of time! How we all wish we could turn back time (sorry!), if you will.