Before I begin, it is crucial that I emphasise how much I wanted to enjoy this film. Living in Edinburgh and soaking myself in the pride and celebration of such a wonderful city is something I am very keen to do. Recently, I re-watched L’illusionniste with my flat mate in order to indulge in the romanticism of Scotland’s capital. In the last week, with a group of fellow film fans, I sat through Filth and took joy in spotting the parts of Edinburgh I recognised. Therefore, when seeing the trailer for Dexter Fletcher’s Sunshine on Leith, I was filled with excitement and anticipation at watching a “feel good”, cheesy film that would be filled with familiar places and upbeat song and dance numbers. Sunshine on Leith turned out to be nothing more than a painful carbon-copy of the horrendous Mamma Mia! that presents cliché after cliché, plot hole after plot hole, weak vocals, boring choreography and very little else. Now, I enjoy a cheesy film, when it is done right. I tried with all of my might to find Mamma Mia! charismatic but I resent the fact that people label these films as “feel good” and class this as an excuse to not maintain any consistency or believability. Instead, I found Meryl Streep’s prancing and Colin Firth’s lack of effort increasingly irritating to the point of fury. I resent such musicals for the reputation that they give musicals as a whole genre. Musicals should have story, character and drama that make you care about the outcomes. If a “feel good” film is labelled as such it should not disregard everything else that makes up cinematic entertainment.
Sunshine on Leith is drenched in cheese. Amongst the stale line delivery, and even stiffer script, there was apparently no room to include a decent story – which is surprising considering that the characters are completely flat; as flat as an Ikea self-assembly sideboard. The two main characters are completely unlike-able.They are as dull and uncomplicated as their love interests. Peter Mullan gives a strong performance, as ever, but is let down by the script. I wanted to give him a hug and tell him “Peter, you’re better than this; above it, even.” Jane Horrocks is particularly weak. It baffles me that the actress with the most painful singing voice is given the most to sing. My other half despised the film because of his hatred of The Proclaimers. I went into the film without this original negative outlook but found myself despising the songs more and more as the film progressed. Many people think your love or hatred of Mamma Mia! is related to your love or hate of ABBA. I completely reject this theory. I adore ABBA. Yet, just as in Sunshine on Leith, the film’s use of artificial backing tracks and ropey harmonies led to my disgust at the musical numbers. I also refuse to be seen as a grumpy film reviewer who is too cynical to take part in the joy of a “feel good” film. I have, on many occasions, been thrilled by films of very little credit. I am no stranger to loving a silly film that you know you shouldn’t, but Sunshine on Leith gives us no satisfying conclusion except the offensive message that it is fine to settle for mediocre commitment and loyalty.
As the film progressed I grew even more aggravated by the audience I was watching the film with. They found, not only every dated and poorly delivered attempt at comedy side-splitting-ly hilarious, but even chortled through scenes that weren’t trying to be comical. I don’t know whether this is a reflection on the audience’s own content to settle or the film’s lack of direction. As one of five English members of the audience, I looked around me, baffled by what everyone was laughing at, coming to the conclusion that it must be either a film that is completely lost in translation or a film that you had to be drunk or stupid to appreciate. Rarely do I write such a passionately negative review. It is unfair to say that Sunshine on Leith is not at all feel good. As the credits rolled I certainly felt better than I had for the previous hour and a half. My spirits were lifted when I realised that Sunshine on Leith, an abomination to not only the musical genre but the guilty pleasure category, was – in the words of The Proclaimers – over and done with. No, I don’t need to lighten up, we need to demand more.
Thanks for reading and let’s all keep supporting our beloved film industry.