Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Walking on Sunshine: Get Your 1980s Pop Nostalgia On

Italian beach himbos are meant to be disposable, good for a summer fling before their expiration date kicks in. Like last year’s cherry blossoms, they might be lovely to look back on, but it would be awkward and ultimately unsatisfying to carry them around indefinitely. Nevertheless, two sisters will fall for one. In fact, it is the same monosyllabic pretty boy, but now that Maddie is engaged to the luggish Raf, the more repressed Taylor is determined to keep their past romance secret in Max Giwa & Dania Paquini (a.k.a. Max & Dania)’s 1980s pop jukebox musical Walking on Sunshine (trailer here), which launches this Friday on VOD.

We know Taylor is the more practical one, because she has been studying at “Uni,” as we hear over and over. The one time she really let her hair down was a summer in Perugia. She therefore recommends it to her more romantic (flightier) sister Maddy as a place to nurse her latest broken heart. Her prescription works only too well. Arriving to discover Maddy is already engaged to the beach bum she was hoping to pick up with again, the heartbroken Taylor resolves to put up a brave front. Needless to say, the circumstances of the whirlwind wedding will make that difficult. Meanwhile, Maddy will try to fend off Doug, the jerk-heel ex-boyfriend she recently dumped for the umpteenth time.

It is possible that Sunshine bears some superficial resemblance to the ABBA juke-boxer Mamma Mia, but who here would possibly know? Regardless, none of this could be considered super-fresh territory. Let’s be honest, these are all stock characters. Poor backstory-less Raf is particularly weak. You will find more personality stuffed and mounted on the wall of a hunting lodge.

Nevertheless, it must be conceded the way the tunes were selected and molded into something like a book musical is often quite clever. Madonna’s “Holiday” is sort of an obvious choice for a flag-waving opener, but the big airport dance number is appealingly choreographed. Unfortunately, Bananarama’s cover arrangement of “Venus” is still lame, nearly thirty years after its initial release.

However, the real surprise is how adroitly Katrina and the Waves’ title tune has been adapted to serve the film’s dramatic needs. Similarly, the rendition of “If I Could Turn Back Time” (associated with Cher) could not be any more manipulative, but the tune does what it needs to do as an emotional climax, worming its way into your head afterward. Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me,” Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love,” and the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” also perfectly fit the vibe of the film and move the action along nicely.

Gemma’s sister Hannah is game enough as Taylor, but if you see one film this week with an Arterton, it absolutely, positively must be Gemma Bovery. Problematically, it is just hard to believe either woman could get hung up on a vacant stare, like Giulio Berruti’s Raf (is that supposed to be a patriotic hat tip to the Royal Air Force?). For the most part though, Sunshine’s cast is attractive, but not inhumanly so. The Perugia backdrops are lovely and the local Tomato Festival (sort of like Holi, but with tomatoes) looks like a lot of fun. By the way, the dude with the soul patch playing Doug the sleaze is Emma Thompson’s husband, Greg Wise.

This film might be hummable, but it isn’t even an inch deep. Still, if you grew up with these tunes (who else saw Katrina and the Waves open up for Squeeze? Anyone? Seriously, that was a good show), this just might be a guilty, shame-ridden pleasure. Recommended solely as a sugary vehicle for nostalgia, Walking on Sunshine hits VOD platforms this Friday (5/29).