Sunshine on Leith
Dexter Fletcher // 2013 // 100 mins
Going into Sunshine on Leith, a 'feel-fabulous' musical based around the songs of Scottish duo The Proclaimers, was always going to be a precarious experience for me. I am a huge fan of musicals and constantly looking for new entires to the genre to obsess over for a while, but I have developed such a strong hatred for The Proclaimers 'I'm Gonna Be (500 miles)' over the years that merely hearing the first few notes of the song makes me want to push a cotton bud that little bit too far into my ear. Still, the cast looked extremely promising and the heaps of praise it was receiving convinced me to ignore my better judgement and give it a go.
To my surprise the film completely subverted my expectations, just not in a good way. That promising cast I mentioned, they are completely wasted on frustrating, one-note characters that bumble through a plot riddled with cliché and poor writing. Davy (George MacKay) and Ally (Kevin Guthrie) are two young soldiers that return from a tour in Afghanistan to their hometown of Edinburgh. Ally returns with plans to progress his relationship with Davy's sister Liz (Freya Mavor), while Liz has her own plan to set her up her younger brother and her English co-worker Yvonne (Antonia Thomas). While all this is happening Davy and Liz's father Rab (Peter Mullan) hears about the death of a former flame that he once cheated on his wife Jean (Jane Horrocks) with, and which resulted in a daughter he had no knowledge of. In typical fashion each relationship has to endure a series of predictable obstacles that threaten the happiness of everyone involved.
While the performances from basically everybody involved are utterly uninspiring, the problems clearly stem from lazy writing that relies on convenience and the ignorance of viewers. Thomas and MacKay, the central couple and my main reason for wanting to watch the film, are wasted in roles that are surprisingly sidelined given the fact that they are supposedly the core relationship of the film. The actors do share a chemistry that we witness a glimmer of during their first date, but are let down by forced conflict that is so desperately wedged into the film that it actually feels that the characters are trying to sabotage the relationship themselves. Horrocks and Mullan receive some slightly meatier drama that is more convincing but still underestimates two accomplished actors.
The only thing that really works here, and I still can't believe this, is the soundtrack. The songs are fun, pertinent to the story and, for the most part, well sang. Some of the actors are more naturally gifted than others when it comes to the vocal talent on display, but no one ever sinks to the depths that the cast of Mamma Mia occupy. I fully expected to hate the musical numbers and only care for the performances from actors who I really enjoy, but the songs were actually a pleasant reprieve from the cringe-inducing narrative. To further prove me wrong, when the inevitable final number of I'm Gonna Be came around I actually enjoyed it. The songs arrangement is a fantastic upgrade and though there was really no saving the film for me, it was nice to go out with a smile rather than a grimace.