Who doesn’t love Abba? Only a percentage of silly boys, and they don’t count.
For everyone else, the golden oldie Europop quartet, with their up-tempo dance tunes and heart-stricken ballads, are melodic tiramisu, sugar-sweet and irresistible. It’s not entirely hard to see why. The sequel “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” offers another serving to the 2008 Abba greatest hits collection “Mamma Mia!” but with sprinkles on top. It is an almost all-singing, all-dancing event that is, by any objective standard, an endearing, effervescent slice of amiable nonsense.
The film returns fan favorites from the original cast while adding fresh faces and new romantic mishaps. The tale is told on a tranquil Greek island where almost no one speaks Greek. Set five years after the first movie, it tells side-to-side the stories of the dear departed Donna, who was an adventurous single mother and owner of a small hotel on the Aegean Sea, and her daughter Sophie, who inherited mama’s zest for life, amorous independence and excellent singing voice.
The film follows them through twin timelines with both in their early 20s. Sophie is again played by Amanda Seyfried. Donna is reprised in angelic form by the returning Meryl Streep and represented in her daredevil chiquitita youth by Lilly James. Each is so ravishing that even though they don’t resemble each other, you can’t say they seem unrelated.
The narrative cross-cuts between the parallel stories of mother and daughter with present-day scenes and extended flashbacks, a conceptually daring approach that works like a charm.
The film is, like the first, a love letter to love, with minimal story mechanics. We follow young Donna in imaginative ’80s costumes as a fresh, carefree college graduate ready to explore the world to find her future. She discovers it on her travels to the Mediterranean, as well as Sam, Harry and Bill, three equally attractive young fellows with whom she shares private time in rapid succession.
While their precise roles in her pregnancy are never established, they keep their rivalries civil and their devotion to Donna endless. They’re all ready to help her in the process of turning an abandoned villa into a haven for tourists, the Hotel Bella Donna.
Life is a bit more challenging in the modern world, where childish things have been put aside as impending adult life looms over Sophie. Her pregnancy has her leaning over the latrine and missing her one and only boyfriend, Sky (returning player Dominic Cooper), who has packed up and left to pursue a career stateside. Her sole counselor amid her struggles is her triplet father Sam (returning Pierce Brosnan), who is a bit grayer than before but still ceaselessly supportive — and still sings like a water buffalo in heat. When he sings “SOS,” it’s a real distress signal.
Does that sound gloomy? Never fear. Producers Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, who also made the blockbuster “My Big, Fat Greek Wedding” and its sequel, would never allow a challenging situation to resist some good, solid showmanship. Before you can shake your jazz hands, the Abba jukebox delivers song after song. None of them is very closely tied to the story line (when you stage “Waterloo” in a cartoonish French restaurant, what are you saying, exactly?), but that was true in the original, too. Besides, all of them are handled with showstopping energy. It’s hard to watch it and not feel at least a tinge of joy.
Christine Baranski and Julie Walters, returning as Donna’s old college friends, are welcome sights, as are Stellan Skarsgård and Colin Firth as her former lovers. Newcomer Andy Garcia turns up to look and behave like Dos Equis beer’s the World’s Most Interesting Man, and Cher shows up as Sophie’s maternal grandma, arriving by helicopter to apologize for being neglectful in the past and to sing two numbers because she’s Cher.
As expected in this era of endless follow-up films, this relies on the tested chemistry of what we’ve seen before. To its credit, it never masquerades as high art — “Les Miserables” it isn’t — nor relays any kind of profound mission statement beyond the enduring appeal of platform shoes. But it’s all inherently appealing, even when there’s a little bit of schmaltz and corn in the recipe.
“My Love, My Life,” the tender show-closing farewell involving Streep, Seyfried and James, deserves a healthy respect for its combo of musty sentiment and powerful performance. It evokes the warmest feelings of parenthood as well as the ends and beginnings and enduring love. Anyone who can watch it without getting sucked in must have a very strong hold on the armrests.