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Review: 'Mama Mia! Here We Go Again'

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Last week, I used this space to sing the praises of originality in cinema. This week, I swing entirely in the other direction to say that pure summer escapism also has its place, and sometimes we just want to sit in an air-conditioned theater and watch attractive people sing Europop classics while frolicking through sun-dappled Greek locales. What can I say, even we critics contain multitudes.

Sweet, sunny, and very silly, "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again" is a movie that unquestionably has no real reason to exist. But since it does, this is just about the best possible version we could have hoped for.

A decade after the film adaptation of the jukebox stage musical featuring the songs of Swedish pop sensation ABBA, we're returned to the magical Greek island of Kalokairi. First the bad news: Donna, the character played by Meryl Streep in the first film, is dead. The good news is that the new movie's entertaining enough that you almost don't miss her. Almost.

A prequel-sequel hybrid, the film splits its time between present day, as Donna's daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) plans to celebrate the reopening of Donna's villa with a lavish party, fulfilling her mother's lifelong dream. As Sophie reminisces about her mother, the film's other plotline flashes back to 1979, as the free-spirited, 20-something Donna (a radiant Lily James) first journeys to the island after graduating from Oxford. Along the way, we see her meet the three men (played by Hugh Skinner, Josh Dylan, and Jeremy Irvine, respectively) who may or may not become Sophie's father.

Streep's absence lends the narrative a melancholy streak, which leaves the film feeling less manic and cartoony, more unabashedly sentimental than the first. It works, even earning additional poignancy by recognizing the pain of missing someone while still finding joy in the fact that they were a part of your life in the first place.

Then the movie helicopters in Cher, playing Sophie's estranged grandmother, who proceeds to turn the film into her own personal mini-concert (the crowd at my screening burst into applause as the singer launched into "Fernando"). Never mind the fact that Cher is only three years older than Streep, or that it was strongly implied in the first film that her character was dead.

"Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again" isn't going to let details like that get in the way of a good time. It's kind of entertainment made for getting day drunk on rosé and having yourself a pleasant time at the movies. Especially in these dark days, something this playful, emotionally earnest, and sweetly sincere feels like something to celebrate.

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