The musical Walking On Sunshine is undoubtedly a bizarre proposition. There’s virtually no part of it that doesn’t seem ill-judged and pretty bizarre, yet after 90 minutes of what feels like someone screaming in your face ‘HAVE A NICE TIME!’, it’s difficult not to succumb to a severe case of Stockholm Syndrome and submit (while hating yourself for it).
Walking On Sunshine was always going to have a difficult time from the moment that it decided that it was going to have as little plot as possible, but what it would have would revolve you hoping that one sister would be able to steal the other’s fiancé before the credits roll. That’s a tough sell in a drama, let alone a movie that’s essentially an excuse to string together a series of 80s pop songs.
Taylor (Hannah Arterton, Gemma’s more rabbit-in-the-headlights sister) had a major love affair in Italy with Raf (Giulo Berruti), but when she went off to university they drifted apart. Now she’s back in the land of pasta and Silvio Berlusconi for her sister Maddie’s (Annabel Scholey) wedding, and you’d never guess, but it turns out her sis in marrying none other than Raf.
Initially Taylor is adamant no one should realise she has a past with Raf, but soon secrets come spilling and there’s no denying that she and Raf still have feelings for one another. Will they end up together and yet manage to find a way where Maddie doesn’t hate her sister for the rest of her life? And will they find a way to cram everything from Eternal Flame to White Wedding and The Power Of Love to If I Could Turn Back Time before the credits roll?
It’s incredible that at no point during the development and production of Walking On Sunshine that nobody stopped and said, ‘What the fuck are we doing?’ There are numerous moments through the film where I couldn’t help but wonder if someone involved actually hates jukebox musicals and was seeking to subvert the film, as so much of it feels like a parody that’s trying to hide the fact it has no respect for what it’s doing. Indeed those who rail against the fact these sorts of pop song musicals have taken over the West End will find that this is an object lesson in everything they hate about them.
The acting is cheesy, the script is just an barely thought about excuse to string a lot of 80s tunes together, the plot is amazingly dumb and perfunctory and from the first few minutes the film is halfway between making fun of and paying homage to Mamma Mia. Indeed, it’s difficult not to wonder if half the thinking was that if British audiences were happy enough to make the Abba based musical the most successful film ever at the British box office they ought to lap this up even if nobody put any effort in.
And that’s the thing that’s most frustrating about Walking On Sunshine, that while everyone looks like they’re having a good time, they’re not really thinking about what they’re doing. This is most obvious when it comes to the songs, as there are several occasions where the script gives the movie the perfect opportunity to subvert the original feel of song and turn it into something new and interesting. This is most obvious when Greg Wise is singing Don’t You Want Me, where considering his character he could/should have made it as sinister as the lyrics actually are (just listen to what the guy actually says in that song and you’ll see what I mean. Instead Walking On Sunshine invariably goes with the safest most pop-synth-y version it can possibly imagine.
Partly that’s a fault with the casting, as in many cases there’s an odd mix of actors who can’t emote when they’re singing (e.g. Greg Wise) and singers who are brilliant when they’re warbling but not when they’re acting (e.g. Leona Lewis). In fact bringing Leona Lewis was a particularly bad idea, as whenever she’s singing she just reminds us on how much effort and autotune the others require. Then there’s Giulio Berruti as Raf, whose main qualification for the role seems to be to be so pretty that straight men will assume that they are gay just because they’re looking at his handsome face and watching a musical at the same time.
However, as mentioned before, thanks to its relentlessly upbeat attitude and succession of familiar lip-sync tunes (which even here feel like lip-sync as there’s very little effort put into making us think anyone is actually singing), it pretty much beats you into submission.
Everyone seems so happy to be there and the soundtrack is basically what you’d hear if you went to 80s night at the local nightclub, so that no matter how rubbish you know it is on an intellectual level, by the end you almost have to physically stop yourself from tapping your toes. You may end up hating yourself and you’ll probably be in wonderment and bemused by just how bizarre the film, but you may also end up feeling like you’ve had an oddly nice time.
Overall Verdict: So bad it’s good? Yes, just about. Walking On Sunshine is undoubtedly a weird and oddly lazy film, but yet by the end it almost forced you to submit to its sunny and slightly pointless charms.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac