Walking on Sunshine traffics in the popularity of certain songs from the 80s. It takes familiar hits like Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” Billy Idol’s “White Wedding,” and The Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” and halfheartedly builds a movie around it, stringing together a bunch of sequences that features a cast of attractive actors mouthing the words while the world around them disintegrates into dance sequences. The movie, unfortunately, adds nothing to these songs. If anything it wears away their appeal by putting them in the context of a really bland story that doesn’t have much of anything to say.
Three years ago, Taylor (Hannah Arterton) was in Puglia, Italy, having a lovely summer romance with Raf (Giunno Berruti), but she left to do the responsible thing and go to University. Now, she returns to the seaside town on the invitation of her sister Maddie (Annabel Scholey). It turns out that Maddie has had a whirlwind romance, and is getting married in a couple of days. And it just so happens that the man she's marrying is Raf. Neither Taylor nor Raf want to make things complicated for Maddie, but they spend more time together, old feelings re-emerge. Meanwhile, Maddie's ex-boyfriend rolls into town as well, fully intending to win her back.
The power of musicals is in how songs can express a depth of emotion simply not available to spoken language. The problem with this movie is that the songs were never really designed to express anything really specific. They tread mainly in pop sentiments, speaking in generalities that don't give any depth to what the characters are experiencing. And so the story that ends up accompanying these songs turns out pretty generic. Worse yet, it seems to shame the main character for choosing to go to University rather than staying with what appears to be a jobless surger.
The movie doesn't even do a whole lot with the songs. The arrangements rarely differ from the original recordings. They don't reveal new aspects to these pop hits, and only end up making them worse by losing the original artists. The actors (minus Berruti) are all fine singers, but they impart precious little personality in their singing. The dance choreography is peppy but repetitive. There isn’t much differentiating one scene from the next, the movie largely sticking to large groups of people interrupting their normal lives to dance in neat lines.
As far as acting goes, there isn’t a whole lot to go around. Hannah Arterton is an appealing enough lead, but she really struggles to get across the bigger emotions. Annabel Scholey is a bit more interesting, but not by much. Giunno Berruti seems to have mostly been hired for his ability to stay shirtless for long periods of time. There is more than one sequence in this movie that has him in inexplicable states of undress.
Walking on Sunshine is really trying to sell itself based on the popularity of these songs. Of course, these songs gain nothing from being strung together in the same movie. They gain nothing by having these actors sing them. If you are indeed a fan of these songs, more pleasure can be derived simply by listening to them. Or if one is so inclined, there’s a lot more fun to be had by singing them on videoke. This film takes that joy of that experience away from the viewer, turning it into a secondhand deal stuck to an uninteresting story.