(*homocinematically inclined)

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Dearest Review: Darling Lily

From her spirited performance as the impetuous Lady Rose on TV's Downton Abbey to her luminous portrayals of Cinderella and the feisty waitress Debora in Baby Driver on the big screen, Lily James has become a true star across several mediums. And as she proves in the hit musical sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, she very well could add pop star to her resume if she so chose.

Leave it to our darling Lily to make us all forget about Meryl Streep as she takes on the younger version of Streep's character Donna in this follow-up to the 2008 box office smash Mamma Mia!, itself based on the long-running global stage musical that cemented the 70s chart-topping Swedish quartet ABBA permanently in the pop culture firmament well into the 21st century. Yes, she sings better (and leaves all the mugging to her predecessor/older self), but Lily also makes us so smitten with Donna that it doesn't even occur to us that she's a bit of a slut, what with sleeping with three different men she barely knows all within a short span of time (thus setting up the whole "who's your daddy?" plot of the first movie).

And she's super cute in those overalls to boot.

Taking a page from, of all things, The Godfather Part II, Here We Go Again is a hybrid prequel/sequel that, like the conventional wisdom regarding that gangster classic, is better than the "part I". Writer/director Ol Parker (whose directorial debut was the lesbian romcom Imagine Me & You) had the unenviable task of taking the sow's ear that was the critically-reviled original and turning out, if not quite a silk purse, at least a gorgeous looking light entertainment that unabashedly chugs along in happy ABBAland until it sneaks in a heart-tugging valentine to motherhood in the final act that will surely create tear-diluted glasses of Chardonnay in girls' night viewing parties for years to come.

When a Mamma Mia sequel was first announced, many wondered what ABBA songs were left considering all their biggest hits were, more or less, already used. But Parker took a deep dive into the ABBA back catalog and while you (like me) have likely never heard them before, found several – "Why Did It Have To Be Me?", "I've Been Waiting For You", "My Love, My Life" – that actually fit quite seamlessly into his narrative, almost as if they were written specifically for it. He even manages to squeeze in "Waterloo" (previously relegated to the "curtain call" on both stage and screen) into the story proper, plus a few choice reprises of songs – "Dancing Queen", "Mamma Mia" – no ABBA project could do without.

Cher will next play Lady Gaga's long-lost mom in A Star is Born 2.

Considering it was one of ABBA's many #1 songs (not to mention one of the best-selling singles of all-time), the absence of "Fernando" was glaringly obvious from Mamma Mia! since it first opened on the musical stage way back in 1999. Well, the wait for it was worth it, as the song is finally performed in the "ABBAverse" here by none other than Cher as Donna's globe-trotting mother... that's right, 35 years post-Silkwood Cher plays Meryl Streep's mom. And if that wasn't bonkers enough, Cher is joined by both Donnas, Lily and Meryl, as well as the whole Mamma Mia! gang (both young and older versions), in belting out "Super Trouper", Here We Go Again's time-bending grand finale, an irresistible coda to the whole Mamma Mia! franchise... for now.

MD Rating: 8/10

Review by Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

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