I recently came across a new movie genre term. Well, a new term to me, anyway, apparently it’s been around since the 1960’s: the Jukebox Musical. This apparently refers to a musical that is built around the songs of a particular style or artist. It’s even been used to refer to movies that are basically vehicles for the artist themselves – in which the artist plays a starring role and often in which the music is original – eg. Purple Rain starring Prince, or even A Hard Days Night with the Beatles.
But its surge in popularity in recent years is attributed to the success of Mamma Mia! featuring the music of ABBA, the band whose music my brother once lamented actually defined the 1970’s, something of a shock for him to realize at the time.
But the reason I mention it here is that I came across the term as I was reading about Sunshine on Leith, the jukebox musical built around the songs of The Proclaimers, a band whose music I don’t think anyone would argue defined anything, but I still enjoy as fun and grounded in (what I assume are) Scottish sensibilities.
Sunshine on Leith has got pretty good reviews and so when I discovered the film even existed, I decided to have a look. And I found in it a fun little movie that is not completely satisfying, and is vulnerable to a common criticism over this type of film: namely that the music feels shoe-horned into the story. Some of the songs seem to really fit, others seem really random. For example, the tune Then I Met You is used during a story beat where one couple have been on the outs, and struggle with whether to reconcile or not. The scene is built almost entirely on the song, but the song’s lyrics don’t really give us the material we need to motivate these characters coming back together. But we are supposed to accept it simply because the characters sing a song.
But a bigger challenge for the film is knowing where to put the weight and emphasis of its story. The movie focuses on three different related couples, and sometimes seems to shift awkwardly between them. Ostensibly, the story of Davy and Yvonne (the ones mentioned above) is the “main story” – the movie begins with Davy’s return home from the war and ends with their final reconciliation. And Davy is the connecting point between all the other couples.
But in some way, their story is the least interesting and least emotionally developed of the three. Maybe the most compelling is Davy’s parents, who struggle with the discovery of long-buried secrets which threaten to end their 40 year marriage. A lot of the emotional weight of the movie, at least in the middle, really falls on them. Meanwhile you have Davy’s sister Liz and her romance with his army buddy, Ally, and their conflicting expectations over their relationship.
Both of these dramas are more interesting than Davy & Yvonne’s mundane ups and downs. It makes the climax, with its romantic comedy-style, “boy-races-against-time-to-catch-up-with-the-girl-before-she-leaves-forever denouement” way less gripping than it should have been. We’re meant to cheer that they got together, but really it doesn’t mean all that much to us. There are some interesting ideas brought up, about Davy’s reaction as a Scot to Yvonne’s English background, but it’s not developed enough to make the couple interesting.
Still, the movie is by no means a failure. The performances are good and the style and setting are fun. If your suspension of disbelief can handle the idea of two army vets walking through the streets of Scotland singing the chorus of I’m on My Way to each other, then maybe this is the movie for you.