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Toronto Film Review: ‘Sunshine on Leith’

Some will find this Proclaimers jukebox musical irresistible, others highly resistible.

With:

Peter Mullan, Jane Horrocks, George MacKay, Freya Mavor, Kevin Guthrie, Antonia Thomas, Jason Flemying.

Twee, sentimental and boisterous in ways that might as well have followed official Scottish Tourist Board guidelines, “Sunshine on Leith” is a stage-to-screen jukebox musical that some will find irresistible, others highly resistible. Like the Proclaimers’ songbook, which it builds a formulaic laughter ‘n’ tears story around, it’s a chirpy heart-on-sleeve confection that’s populist in a somewhat generic way. Outside the U.K., where the film opens Oct. 4, biz will likely be spotty.

Lifelong best pals Davy (George MacKay) and Ally (Kevin Guthrie) have returned home to Edinburgh after a tour of duty in Afghanistan, having survived a road mine explosion that killed or maimed several comrades. Now it’s back to the everyday business of finding work, with telemarketing seemingly the only option. Ally reunites with Davy’s sister Liz (Freya Mavor), though his hopes for a conventional domestic future together don’t mesh with her hunger to “see the world.” She sets Davy up with her hospital co-worker Yvonne (Antonia Thomas), a recent London transplant, and they hit it off pretty well.

Meanwhile, the siblings’ parents (Peter Mullan, Jane Horrocks) are about to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, though Dad’s discovery that he has a previously unknown adult daughter by another woman throws their marriage into sudden turmoil. Just as all three women are on the outs with their men, a conveniently timed medical crisis brings everyone back to their senses.

These various conflicts are patly developed and predictably worked out, satisfying a rote crowdpleaser’s need for emotional highs and lows, all in a vein of reassuring familiarity. Banal dialogue and simple lyrics alike underline that these be decent people, things’ll work out all right, love is true even when it’s hard, etc.

If the pileup of cliches doesn’t exceed viewers’ tolerance for corn and cutesiness (a big dose of the latter provided by Horrocks), they may well find the film as rousing as it intends to be. Capably sung for the most part (especially by the younger actors), the folk-inflected pop tunes by Proclaimers duo Charlie and Craig Reed make for very easy listening, catchy yet bland. Their global hit “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” is performed twice, the second time in a climactic production number that reps the film’s most ambitious setpiece.

Even there, however, choreographer Rosie Kay doesn’t challenge the performers with steps or gestures that would tax the talent pool of a school pageant. That approach suits the desired unpretentious, working-class vibe, yet it also feels overly calculated and pandering in a prepackaged musical-theater manner that the real-world backdrops only accentuate.

Edinburgh sights are duly showcased, though thesp-turned-helmer Dexter Fletcher’s production doesn’t have much of a look, even in the song sequences. Widescreen HD lensing appears particularly televisual in the more expansive city vistas.

Mullan provides the most (perhaps only) gravity in an undemanding, broadly drawn ensemble; the four junior lovers are pleasant enough. Packaging is energetic but undistinguished; musical director Paul Englishby’s original background score adds some syrupy notes.

Toronto Film Review: 'Sunshine on Leith'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 10, 2013. Running time: 99 MIN.

Production:

(U.K.) A DNA Films and Black Camel Pictures production. (International sales: Focus Features Intl., London.) Produced by Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich, Arabella Page Croft, Kieran Parker. Executive producers, Nigel Green, Trevor Green.

Crew:

Directed by Dexter Fletcher. Screenplay, Stephen Greenhorn, adapted from his stage play. Camera (color, HD, widescreen), George Richmond; editor, Stuart Gazzard; music/musical director, Paul Englishby; songs, Charlie Reid, Craig Reid; production designer, Mike Gunn; costume designer, Anna Robbins; art director, Zoe Wight; set decorator, Claire Pidgeon; sound (Dolby Digital), Glenn Freemantle; re-recording mixers, Ian Tapp, Niv Adiri; choreographer, Rosie Kay; assistant director, Jonathan Farmer; casting, Kahleen Crawford, Nina Gold.

With:

Peter Mullan, Jane Horrocks, George MacKay, Freya Mavor, Kevin Guthrie, Antonia Thomas, Jason Flemying.

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