It’s been a year since Sophie’s mom, the indefatigable Donna, passed away. Since then, Sophie has been working like mad on the Greek isle of Kalokairi to fulfill her Mom’s dream: opening an idyllic little hotel dubbed the Bella Donna.
There are, however, complications. Two of Sophie’s three “dads” (it’s never been clear which one is actually her biological father, given the promiscuity surrounding her mother’s pregnancy decades before) aren’t going to be able to attend the opening. Her beau, Sky, is in New York and thinking about staying there. And there’s a threatening storm on the horizon that may well dash the happy beachside celebration altogether.
All of that sends Sophie off on a thoughtful journey. As she shows a couple old friends around the refurbished island property, she reminisces about her twentysomething mom’s challenges years before. Back then, Donna wrestled with questions about her future as she left school and found her way to this little Greek island. She juggled the romantic angst of having three handsome, wayward lovers. And she had storms out on her horizon, too.
If that all sounds like a set-up for some flashback dance sequences and a musical number or two, well, it is.
The affection between Donna and her various bedmates—Sam, Bill and Harry—may ebb and flow, but it’s definitely clear that the mother-daughter tie between her and Sophie is unwavering. Even as an expectant mom in the past, Donna speaks of gaining strength and comfort from her love for her unborn child.
[Spoiler Warning] We see that above-mentioned mother-daughter bond reemphasized in a scene where Sophie takes her own child to be christened at a nearby church. There, she sings a duet of shared love and God’s blessing with an imagined, dream-sequence of her deceased mother.
Young Donna, her adult daughter Sophie, and several other women on Kalokairi, wear tops or swimsuits that display midriff and cleavage. And though all this story’s sensual trysts happen off-camera, it’s still very clear that young Donna has sex with three different guys in the course of a week or so. In Harry’s case, he makes it plain that it’s his first sexual experience. We see Donna lounging in bed with a couple of the guys after the fact; two of the young men are shirtless.
Donna’s best friends, Rosie and Tanya, make some randy comments as they talk about their partying ways, specifically the effects certain men have on their intimate anatomy. We see Donna and Sam kiss. Sophie and Sky share a smooch, too. [Spoiler Warning] In fact, we learn that this unmarried couple is about to have a baby.
The movie includes several subtle same-sex attraction winks, in the form of a song reference and a couple of quick jokes during the course of the film and again in the closing credits.
On carefree (and, usually, moral-free) Kalokairi, there’s rarely much consideration of the consequences of one’s intimate liaisons. There is one exception, however: An elderly woman frowns at some people’s behavior. She sizes up one young man and berates him for his “wandering eye and restless groin.”
A swimmer flounders in the water until someone jumps in to help him.
One misuse of Jesus’ name and three exclamations of “oh my god” join one use of “h—.”
Alcohol flows freely on this little Greek isle—both in a local bar and at various social events. Donna and her acquaintances regularly imbibe beer, wine, vodka and umbrella topped cocktails. The opening celebration of Sophie’s hotel showcases plenty of partiers with drinks, as well.
In fact, a portrait of an adult Donna in the present depicts her with a drink in her hand. Her husband says that if she were there for Sophie’s celebration, she would be drinking and dancing until she fell over.
Thinking critically about your choices is never really encouraged on Kalokairi. In fact, one guy tells young Donna, “You think too much, you get unhappy.” Similarly, a friend tells Sophie to stop worrying about her choices and “do what makes your soul shine.”
The second Mamma Mia movie has problems. And they show up almost as soon as the first golden rays of sunlight hit the shores of Kalokairi and the first chord of an ABBA love song is strummed.
The original movie covered the storyline of Donna and her three potential baby daddies. So flashing back and revisiting that “origin story” again with a young Donna, younger versions of her BFFs (Tanya and Rosie), and youthified versions of her hunka-hunks (Bill, Sam and Harry) really doesn’t advance this narrative much. Mostly what we get are musical moments that reveal a cast full of pretty people with no discernable musical skills.
That’s not to say that there aren’t a couple of sweet moments to enjoy here, or some ensemble sing-and-dance numbers worthy of a smile. Lily James as a young Donna and Amanda Seyfried as current-day Sophie both inject their smiling effervescence into everything they do. But effervescence and a nice moment or two alone aren’t enough to offset this sequel’s aesthetic and moral stumblings.
Let’s face it, most of the truly memorable ABBA hits were used in the first movie musical. This film’s crop of B-sides doesn’t generate enough musical pizazz to keep young Donna’s tale skipping along. Or your toes tapping along, for that matter. Seeing Donna frolic about during her Oxford valedictorian speech singing “When I Kissed the Teacher,” for instance, just feels … odd. At best.
And whereas the first pic had just a few lyrical plot holes to fill with distractingly frothy dance routines now and again, this one has … plot caverns. And a lot less froth to go ’round.
Frankly, though, the moral potholes in this sequel once again present this musical’s most off-key moments. You’re supposed to overlook the casual sleep-around worldview here and just enjoy the bounciness of things. After all, a young woman with three “dads” is fun, right?
But the lesson, “Do as you please in your sun-dappled youth,” isn’t a great message for the kids in the audience. And the real costs, emotionally and relationally, of Donna’s casual promiscuity aren’t really weighed here.
Will diehard ABBA fans be inspired to belt out “Thank You for the Music” after sitting through this flick? Maybe. But I doubt many will be screaming “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” for another sequel.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.