Walking on Sunshine

Rating:

BACK TO THE BEACH

Main Cast: Hannah Arterton, Giulio Berruti

Director: Max & Dania

My tres intime little brunch meeting with Vera Charles did make the National Intruder, although the photo they chose, a highly unflattering up the tap skirt shot, and the  caption ‘Vicki Lester Table Dances at Sticky Hollywood Joint’ did not really reflect the sense of old style glamour that I like to see in my press.  I am really going to have to give my publicist, Madame Rose, a good talking to or she’s going to find herself out of a job and back with Caroline the Cow.  I called her office and told her she better make sure I am on the cover of either Vanity Fair or Psychology Today as a token of good faith.  She said she’d put her best person, Peter Lovejoy, right on it.

flamingo head PD

We can always make do with a little Bedazzling.

When I was done with all of that, and had a Cuervo Gold margarita with a Xanax chaser for purely medicinal purposes – my blood pressure had risen to a dangerous 145/80, I called Leah to check on the merchandise roll out for my iDollaTree boutiques in which all the best of Mrs. Norman Maine meets all the best of Apple electronics.  There have apparently been some translation problems between our offices and the Chinese manufacturers and our order for 10,000 Mrs. Norman Maine collector dolls was somehow encoded as 10,000 pink lawn flamingos which arrived wearing a lovely little variation on my famous tartan dream ballet costume from Bridgeodoom, that wonderful Scottish musical about the evil spirit that returns one Hallowe’en every hundred years.  The plaid is a little plain so I’m having Kim Dee and Mary Gee, my personal seamstresses, purchase a few Bedazzlers and start working their rhinestone magic.  We should have them ready for the after holiday sales.

It was such a busy and productive day, that I felt like I needed an exotic beach vacation in order to recover.  I thought about driving down to the Santa Monica pier but Normy had the car out today meeting with some music types at Symphony Hall about a very important commission – an orchestral suite for calliope and classical guitar.  I had to settle therefore for a beach movie.  I thought about one of those lovely old classics with Frankie and Annette but in searching through various channels, I stumbled on the next best thing, Walking on Sunshine, a British film from last year that never received a US release.  The worldwide success of both the stage and film versions of Mamma Mia showed that there is a market for innocuous entertainments in which attractive young people prance around on idyllic Mediterranean beaches singing the pop songs of their parents and grandparents and this film was created to cater to it.

While Mamma Mia celebrates the Swedish Euro pop group Abba, Walking on Sunshine takes on the top 40 of the entire 1980s with songs made famous by Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, the Go-Gos, Wham, Billy Idol and other acts of the era all making an appearance, shoehorned into the usual romantic complications plot.  The film is set in Puglia, Italy and begins with a brief prologue in which we meet Taylor (Hannah Arterton), a British student at the beach on holiday where she has a fling with local stud Raf (Giulio Berruti).  She reluctantly bids goodbye to summer love and returns to her usual life.  Fast forward three years and Taylor’s sister Maddie (Annabel Scholey), fleeing a bad relationship with her older boyfriend Doug (Greg Wise), decides to rent a lovely villa in Puglia.  While there she meets the man of her dreams, invites Taylor to the wedding and you can see where this is going from about forty miles away.  Throw in a couple of comic sidekicks including Maddie’s best friend, an erotic novelist (Katy Brand), an expatriate beach bum (Danny Kirrane) and a couple of local hotties (Leona Lewis and Giulio Corso) and you have all your bases covered for ninety minutes of musical Nutella.

A film like this lives and dies on the memories of the audience and the memories and emotions conjured up by half-forgotten pieces of music.  The genius behind Mamma Mia was that all of the major characters were fifty something, people who could conceivably have grown up to a sound track of Abba and who would have that sort of music in their blood.  The young people who took their clothes off were merely plot devices so we didn’t mind when they sang songs that were completely wrong for them.  This film is filled with nothing but attractive young people who were obviously born after the 1980s and therefore the characters and the music have no connection.  Having Millennials sing Huey Lewis and the News makes about as much sense as if Frankie and Annette had been singing The Andrews Sisters greatest hits.  If one can suspend disbelief enough to accept these people living in this musical world, it becomes a fast paced tour of AM radio circa 1988.  When Taylor arrives at the airport in Puglia, she dances through the terminal singing ‘Holiday’ at the top of her lungs and soon the entire airport is caught up in a Busby Berkley production number involving dancing stewardesses, piles of luggage and carefully choreographed passengers.  This is just the first of a dozen or so songs, many of them big production numbers where a cast of hundreds of attractive young dancers materialize out of nowhere to do choreography once rejected by Jeffrey Hornaday.

The musical staging by Philipp Blaulach isn’t bad, it’s just repetitive and awfully literal.  Anything referred to in the lyrics will appear on screen at that moment, whether appropriate to the setting or not, and it gets somewhat difficult to tell one number from the next while we’re busy singing along.  The one exception to this is the title song, Katrina and the Waves’ Walking on Sunshine, which takes place while all our heroes and heroines are busy dumping buckets of ketchup over each other at the San Fermin tomato festival.  I will admit it’s one staging that never occurred to me and I have been known to come up with some highly original ideas over the years.

The performances are fun and the voices, which sound like the actors are doing their own singing, are up to the material.    The comic actors are, for the most part, much more watchable than the romantic triangle that is supposed to be keeping our attention.  Danny Kirrane and Katy Brand, in particular, steal every moment they can possibly get away with and then some and I look forward to seeing them in other projects in their future.  The other standout is Greg Wise as the older and wiser ex.  He’s put a few years and miles on since he played Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility a few decades ago and he actually gets the kind of performance style needed to keep this farrago going and is the only one to whom songs of the 80s might mean something other than a tune on oldies radio.   He’s not much of a singer but his version of ‘Faith’ is a comic highlight.

Walking on Sunshine is not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it is highly enjoyable and full of lovely scenery, of both the Italian and the human in bathing suit variety.  By all means check it out when you want to check your brain out some rainy afternoon.

Goddess costume.  Multiple pushing of people into swimming pools.  Gratuitous elderly maid transformation.  Motorcycling.  Beach drinking.  Gratuitous dressing as 80s music icons.  Naked man taped to tree.  Unexpected parasailing.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

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