The best selling point of “Happy FKN Sunshine,” a “let’s start a metal band” dramedy, is that the title makes it sound British, or better yet Irish.
But no. It’s Canadian, set and shot in Ontario. They swear up there in the Land of Nice, too. So no going on aboot spilt milk, eh?
It’s a scruffy little dramedy that borrows from its better predecessors. There’s more than a little of Alan Parker’s rollicking film of Roddy Doyle’s “The Commitments” in it. But the tropes of this genre are so well-worn it’s pointless dwelling on those connections.
What matters more is that it’s dark and funny, but not quite funny enough. It’s musical, but not so musical that you think “God I hope they make it,” based on the tunes and performances we see here.
And it should be touching, even though it never is.
An Ontario mill town (North Bay was the filming location) hits the wall when its local mill goes on strike. Maybe that’s not the best time for a bunch of high school kids to upgrade their instruments and try to make it as a band.
But all it takes is hearing sensitive Will (Matt Close) turned down by their on-strike dad (Lewis Hodgson) and fretful mom (Carrie Schiffler) for big sister Ronnie (Mattea Brotherton) to buy her sibling a Flying Vee knockoff from the local music and pawn shop.
Ronnie has means of her own. She can tell her parents she works at a landscaping business, and maybe they believe it. Ronnie’s dealing drugs, and Will can do her “a favor” or two, and she’ll get to be the band’s manager on the bargain.
You can guess what the “favor” will entail. But the band name ever-rebelling Ronnie puts out there?
“Happy FKN Sunshine,” only without the “FKN” abbreviation.
With hotheaded lead singer Vince (Connor Rueter) and cute drummer River (Maxime Lauzon), they’re ready for stardom. But as the film’s “Chapter One” tips us, they’re still one brick shy of a load.
“Chapter One: Who the f— Plays Bass in Town?”
That’s how how they end up with local loudmouth and BS artist “Artie,” an annoying pathological liar who is always regaling anyone stupid enough to pause and listen about who he “jammed” with this weekend, or which infamous auto-part-named rocker gave him a BJ last weekend.
Will is as shocked as we are when Artie (Dana Hodgson) turned out to be “unfortunately REALLY good at bass.”
Throw in Artie’s aged Irish-accented music industry vet “Fast Eddie” (Ted Dykstra), the one who sold most of them their instruments, and they’ve got a ticket to ride, or at least rehearse until they’re ready to push their social media numbers up with a live gig.
The obstacles to all this are several things you’ve already picked up on — broke town, broken families, a strike, a drug dealer, a pathological liar on bass. Add to that Ronnie and Will’s abusive father, Artie’s absentee mother and brain-damaged dad, and you’ve got the makings for a musical melodrama with the occasional (very occasional) laugh.
“KILL yourself for being ugly!” Ronnie shouts at people who catcall her from the stoop where she does her dealing with friend or “special friend” Danielle (Bridget Graham).
The whole film feels like the ’80s until the occasional more recent car or cell phone or social media reference turns up. That’s kind of the way of things. The further north you go, the more Slayer, Metallica and GNR have stayed in style.
“Happy FKN Sunshine” is likable enough and so realistic you’d swear these aspiring musicians weren’t young actors. But there isn’t much at all to this, even with all the melodrama piled up around the edges. The conflicts are undeveloped, romance is an afterthought and damned if “The Commitments” borrowings don’t include the biggest plot points of the third act.
The novelty’s long gone from such scenarios, and screenwriters Ryan Keller and James Gordon Ross and director Derek Diorio don’t show us one damned thing that feels novel or new.
So happy FKN new year, “Happy FKN Sunshine.” Better FKN luck next time.
Rating: unrated, violence, drug abuse, profanity
Cast: Matt Close, Mattea Brotherton, Maxime Lauzon, Dana Hodgson, Connor Rueter, Lewis Hodgson, Bridget Graham and Ted Dykstra.
Credits: Directed by Derek Diorio, scripted by Ryan Keller and James Gordon Ross. A Random Media release.
Running time: 1:38
Just want to thank you–not for this review in particular, but for your reviews in general. They’re always worth reading. I appreciate the way you can distinguish betweeen good and bad action films and good and bad art films, without asking one kind of movie to be more like the other kind. And I appreciate it that you don’t hand out three-star and four-star reviews like candy. When something earns a good review from you, I know it’s worth seeing.