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Walking on Sunshine (12A)
Vue, Islington
19th June 2014

★☆☆☆☆

The summer is nearly upon us and a new film, named after a feelgood, catchy 80s pop song starring one of London's finest vocalists is about to hit the big screen. Winning formula, right? Sorry, but Walking on Sunshine has even less of a chance of winning critical acclaim than England have at winning the World Cup. (Sorry, but that's true. You know it. It's all about the taking part.)

One glorious summer in Puglia, Taylor (Hannah Arterton, yes, she's the sister of who you think she is) falls head over heels for local boy Raf (Giulio Berruti, where have you been all my life?) but things end when she returns to the UK. Despite being intelligent enough to get into university, apparently Taylor hasn't ever heard of Skype and/or looked on match.com and realised that attractive, soulful men like Raf are in short supply. She pretty much ignores him for three years, confident in the knowledge that no other white foreigners will ever rock up to one of Italy's hottest tourist destinations.

Fast forward three years to after Taylor's graduation and unsurprisingly, with a six-pack like that, Raf is off the market. In what comes as a massive shock for Taylor - less so for anyone else who has ever watched a film in their life - Raf is getting hitched to none other than her sister, Maddie (Annabel Scholey). Taylor is equal doses horrified and heartbroken, begs Raf to keep their fling a secret and also requests silence from their mutual friends from back in the day, Elena (Leona Lewis), Enrico (Giulio Corso) and Mikey (Danny Kirrane). None of them are convinced this is a good plan apart from Taylor, but they all play along, mainly because the film would end right there otherwise.

Unlike Mamma Mia! which was restricted to covering the ABBA back catalogue, Walking on Sunshine features songs from a variety of artists from the whole of the 80s. There's actually a lot to choose from, but this is Joshua St Johnston's first foray into the big screen, and he's struggled. Towards the end of the film, there's a heart-to-heart between Lil (Katy Brand) and Taylor in which the erotic novelist explains she learnt everything she knows about real love from Taylor and Maddie - well, it feels like all St Johnston learnt about film he got from watching the blu-ray of Mamma Mia! on a loop. If you're going to take inspiration from another movie, you should at least pick a good one.

The vocals are on balance stronger here, but that's not saying much given Pierce Brosnan, Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper's performances. Their 'bravery' undoubtedly led to Russell Crowe believing he could sing in the film adaptation of Les Misérables without being dubbed - well, Greg Wise, at least your singing is not as bad as Crowe's. A message for all talent, just because you can act, does not mean you can sing. The converse is also true, Lewis doesn't fare particularly well when acting as Elena - but she is an exceptional singer. It's such a massive shame that there's so little of her singing in this film - the only real contribution she is allowed to bring is her name.

Despite the love triangle between Taylor, Maddy and Raf, it's actually Lil who seems to get the most vocal time (or at least, it just feels this way). Brand can hold a tune, but if you're going to let a supporting character hog the limelight, why would you choose the comedian over the award-winning international pop superstar? As mentioned, Lewis is in this film, but if you blink, you may well miss her. Right at the very end there's a tantalising warble in Wake Me Up Before You Go Go, but that's the closest we get. "I wanna hit that high" sings Lewis - yes, we want you to hit that high too. Except no one ever lets you. Why? Why is that? Too obvious?

When a tortured Taylor wails her way through Eternal Flame on the beach, if you were to carve up the movie there and then into a clip of that song only, actually, it would make a fairly average pop video (as opposed to part of a longer, terrible film). Compare it to Atomic Kitten covering The Bangles and you'll see what I mean. There are little moments of "it could have been worse", and directors Max Giwa and Dania Pasquini often frame sequences well, but the problem is there's no synergy. The whole of Walking on Sunshine is less than the sum of its parts.

Regarding the dialogue, there are some 'clever' lines such as Maddie's ex Doug (Wise) declaring he wants to find himself in her. Literally. (Do you see what he did there?) To call this a complete and utter cheesefest would be an understatement, but at least you know what you're getting yourself in for. At the start of the film, Taylor is asked if her trip to Puglia is for business or if it's a holiday, leading - of course - into a flash mob rendition of Madonna's Holiday. It sets the tone nicely for what is to come, so if you hate this bit, walk out before you lose a further 90 minutes of your life. You'll thank me.

Speaking of walkouts, there were plenty. There were also a lot of smartphones - the sea of white for once not an indication of potential piracy, but patrons losing interest and planning their next week's grocery shop from Tesco. It's a sad time when a film is so poor no one wants to steal it.

If you must see a bad musical film, try Jersey Boys. It's also full of cheese, but at least it has an actual plot. Never mind Walking on Sunshine, walking on hot coals would be preferable to sitting through this again. Some people will call it a Marmite film - no, it's just a bad one.

Walking on Sunshine was released in the UK on 27th June 2014.

Nearest tube station: Angel (Northern)



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