Remember a couple of weeks back when at the very beginning of my review for Jersey Boys I reiterated my undying love for musicals? Cut to two days ago and it seems that God, if there is such a being, has heard of my penchant and sent a film to earth to test my love of this particular genre to the very limit. The trailer for Walking On Sunshine was first placed in front of my face during the twenty five minutes of commercials before my viewing of The Fault In Our Stars, and it was met with the same reaction by every single person in the cinema, sheer hilarity and disbelief at just how cringe worthy a film can be. Obviously, I hate myself, because weeks later, there I was walking in to the theatre prepared for ninety minutes of relentless awkwardness and groan worthy set pieces. Could Walking On Sunshine do what films like Grease 2 managed to do and go full circle in to being so bad it is amazing?
The answer is no, absolutely not. Walking On Sunshine is a British jukebox musical that tells the story of two sisters and their complicated love lives whilst holidaying in Italy, accompanied by some of the biggest pop hits of the eighties. Recent university graduate Taylor (Hannah Arterton) arrives in Puglia, Italy with the intention of consoling big sister Maddie (Annabel Scholey) over her recent break up with the charming but slimy Doug (Greg Wise). Instead, she is greeted with the dilemma of Maddie, in whirl wind fashion, getting married to her own previous and still burning Italian flame Raf (Giulio Berruti). Erotic author and eccentric friend Lil (Katy Brand), and a group of Taylor’s old beach friends notably including Leona Lewis as Elena make up the cast list for what is a truly excruciating and cliched romantic comedy romp that is more predictable than an episode of Eastenders. The film attempts to replicate the aesthetic and themes of 2008’s smash hit Mamma Mia! to an almost embarrassing extent, and whilst it certainly bears similarity in the beautiful settings of sandy beaches and picturesque townscapes, that is firmly where the comparison ends. Though I was not as big a fan of Mamma Mia! as some, there is no questioning the musical strength of the film, with the ABBA songbook being untouchable in terms of quality and universal popularity and acclaim. The untouchable quality of the song choices in Walking On Sunshine, however, is much more questionable. Though the soundtrack is filled with memorable hits from the decade featuring artists like Cher, George Michael, Bananarama and Madonna, there is just something about the way the songs are shoehorned in to the story that sits very awkwardly with the audience. I found myself dreading the unexpected start of yet another eighties classic that was about to be butchered, and the heavy handed nature of the musical elements really go to show just how hard it is to make it look effortless in musical films of much great quality.
One other discernible difference between Mamma Mia! and Walking On Sunshine is the vast gulf in talent and notability concerning the cast lists. Whereas audiences were dazzled by the like Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan and Julie Walters in the ABBA bonanza, they are treated to, in all honesty, a bunch of nobodies from Nobodiesville for this eighties ‘extravaganza’. Female protagonist Hannah Arterton is more well known for being the little sister of Gemma than for anything in her own right, and whilst she is pretty and somewhat engaging at times, her singing voice is adequate at best and the character of Taylor is easily forgettable. Forgettable is unfortunately the key word when it comes to the efforts of the majority of the cast. Katy Brand gives an awkward and contrived performance as Lil in what was obviously pitched as a ‘Melissa McCarthy-esque role’, with her natural comedic talent being wasted on lack lustre and unfunny dialogue. Annabel Scholey as Maddie does inject some charisma and impressive singing ability to the proceedings, but her performance alone is simply not enough to help the film from being a boring cliche-fest that offers absolutely nothing in terms of originality.
Ultimately, Walking On Sunshine is a film to be avoided at all costs when considering options for a trip to the cinema. The highest praise I can think of to award the film is that it will become an instant DVD hit with women who are looking for something to laugh at (not with) and sing along to badly whilst consuming copious amounts of alcohol. It is the movie equivalent of a cheesy, booze filled night out that, that whilst feeling like a good idea at the time, will no doubt leave you with a head ache and severe regrets the morning after.