When you watch Walking on Sunshine one thing seems obvious: The budget lines for the music rights and locations were by far the largest numbers on the spreadsheet. This isn’t to say the film is bad. It’s exactly what you expect a film with the tag line “If you liked Mamma Mia!, you’ll love this” to be. It’s a plot barely held together with connecting 80s music set against the backdrop of Puglia, Italy, a beautiful seaside village.
Of course, the reason this film isn’t compared to the equally 80s Rock of Ages is because it’s a much lighter film with much peppier message. So Mamma Mia! it is and the opening confirms what we’re in for.
The film starts “3 years ago” where we see a guy and a girl on the beach. The guy is impossibly gorgeous and the girl is pretty. We get the set-up: He loves her and wants her to stay, she can’t because university starts in the fall but don’t worry, we’ll still be together.
“Today” and the girl is arriving back in that self same Italian village with a big smile on her face and a musical build-up behind her which is about to explode. Thankfully, the passport control officer asks her “business or pleasure,” giving her just the opening she needs. She belts out “Holiday!” and we’re off and running… well, more like dancing as this cute blonde makes her way through the airport encouraging fellow travelers to join her in her Madonna fueled euphoria! Sure, it’s a little too “on the nose” plot wise, but you know, it’s easy to forgive her… and we don’t even know who she is yet.
Turns out her name is Taylor (Hannah Arterton) and she’s in Puglia (where she was 3 years earlier) because her sister Maddie (Annabel Scholey) has met an amazing guy (no, not Doug!) and they’re getting married in two days!!!! (yes, I need that many exclamation points) Also along for the ride is Lil (Katy Brand) who appears to be an old friend of the girls, as well as an erotic novelist.
Before you can ask “How Will I Know (if he really loves me)?” we discover that Raf (Giulio Berruti) is both the jilted ex from three years previous AND the current fiancé! Crazy! Predictably the film bounces around this triangle, throwing in slight complications (Doug! (Greg Wise) Maddie’s on again/off again ex shows up to throw a wrench in the plans) and everything ends exactly where it should with the couple you want to get together getting together.
Really, though, the plot doesn’t matter. We’re there to have fun and sing along and enjoy the scenery… and that’s actually what I want to talk about – the scenery. Berruti, who probably has the most credits among the leads (albeit mostly in Italian productions) is beautiful. No question about it. As a CIS straight male secure in my own sexuality, I can honestly say this guy is stunning. The girls however, while cute, are NOT typical Hollywood starlets and I’m glad for it. Arterton (who, yes, is the younger sister of Gemma) is often shot without overt make-up covering her adorable freckles and her smile is slightly off center. I’m not even going to talk about her hair, which at times is a tangled rats nest. In other words, she’s normal. As is Scholey who has a bit of a belly. And Brand is a big girl. Not a size 6 Hollywood version of heavy but an honest to god large woman. And except for a slight cop-out near the end, she gets the hot guys to play with.
The costume designs are everyday fashion and don’t always fit exactly right, you know, like normal people. This is a film where the primary goal was to enjoy the process and create a fun, happy product. The cast, while they can all sing, are fairly inexperienced (according to IMDb, one of the projects Scholey is known for is doing the voice of Ginny Weasley on a Harry Potter video game – and if anyone knows her, I’d love an introduction) but I’m hoping this project leads to more work for all of them. Even the supporting cast is comprised of attractive but not absurd people who can sing and dance passably well.
As I said at the start, this film is going to make money because nostalgia plays well and the filmmakers didn’t waste money on silicon and plastic but on real, identifiable people who, like us in the theatre, were “Wild Boys” and “Girls [who] Just Want To Have Fun.”