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Mama Mia! Here We Go Again

At the Cinemark

(PG-13)

Grade: B+

Scandinavia loves its ABBA.

The Bergen Kino, the downtown theater in Bergen, Norway, is showing the “Mama Mia” sequel 20 times per day. Yes, that’s twenty which rhymes with plenty.

With Norwegian subtitles crawling across the screen and a crowd of ABBA believers smiling around us, Sue and I watched the usual suspects -- Meryl, Pierce, Colin and Bill -- sing ABBA songs which, rounded off, more or less linked to yet another sentimental romantic story.

But, to spice things up, the cast of card-carrying AARP members is complemented by an assortment of younger types with cute faces and carved abs.

In the 2008 original on a Greek island, Donna (Meryl Streep) was preparing for the wedding of her 20-year-old daughter Sophie, who secretly invited three men to the celebration -- the three men mentioned in her mom’s diary as her possible fathers. Sophie hoped to figure out which one is Dad, and have him walk her down the aisle. Spoiler alert: She can’t figure it out so all three give her away. Everybody sings a lot.

In the sequel, Donna has died and her friends and family are planning a Greek celebration to honor her life and restore some joy to the clan. Planning the event is Donna’s daughter, Sophie, who is now pregnant -- and, for the record, Sophie knows who the dad is.

As Sophie plans the festivities, she recalls how her three fathers (she still doesn’t know and doesn’t want to know which one has matching DNA) met her mom.

So the story weaves back and forth in time, quite smoothly. And, after the party finally happens, we flash forward nine months to attend the christening of Sophie’s daughter -- with all three grandpas there to celebrate.

And, to christen the occasion, the angel of Meryl attends and sings a duet with her daughter.

That angel-mom-grieving-daughter ballad, “My Love, My Life,” is very touching. Leave it to Meryl to be given only one scene and to make it the most memorable in the film.

Well, Cher might disagree. The ultimate diva, Cher, sashays in as Sophie’s grandma-with-attitude and unleashes her own show-stopping ABBA song.

No one will accuse this film of being a threat to Ingmar Bergman’s place at the pinnacle of cinema. The “Mama Mia” movies were, after all, written as “jukebox musicals” in which people fall in and out of love while dancing and singing.

But this sequel has emotional bite thanks to its sad foundation of the loss of a dearly loved mom. In many ways, the film is framed as a Day of the Dead celebration ensuring that a lost loved one lives on in the minds and hearts of friends and family.

Thanks to some exceptional cast members such as Julia Walters, Colin Firth, Andy Garcia, Stellan Skarsgard, Cher and Meryl herself, the script rises above its jukebox roots. Amanda Seyfried, as the sad daughter, plays the lead convincingly, and Lily James is passable, if too smiley and superficial, as the young Meryl, who sets off to see the world and have a few hippy flings.

The power in this film is its joy. The ensemble cast obviously loved working together, and the story manages to capture that optimistic spirit.

What’s missing are some shades of gray in the cinematic brush strokes to balance all the splashes of happy colors. We have grief -- yes, that’s real -- but the script is reluctant to fly too close to the sun, lest it disappoint the Dancing Queens in the audience.

Still, Sue and I both enjoyed this sequel very much. The final hour when Meryl and Cher chew up the scenery is reason enough to justify the whole venture.

Of course, we all know I’m hardly unbiased. I had just spent three hours at the ABBA Museum (see sidebar story) and I saw the film in Scandinavia with adoring ABBA fans.

To clinch the deal, the opening song is “Thank You for the Music,” my favorite ABBA song.

Taken for what it is -- a romantic musical with a talented freewheeling cast -- “Mama Mia! Here We Go Again” delivers some welcome joy into our lives to the contagious beat of a memorable Swedish band.

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