REVIEW: Greatest Days (2023, dir. Coky Giedroyc)

Certificate: 12A

Running Time: 112 mins

UK Distributor: Elysian Film Group

WHO’S IN GREATEST DAYS?

Aisling Bea, Alice Lowe, Jayde Adams, Amaka Okafor, Marc Wooton, Lara McDonnell, Jessie Mae Alonzo, Nandi Sawyers-Hudson, Carragon Guest, Eliza Dobson, Aaron Bryan, Joshua Jung, Dalvin Cory, Mark Samaras, Mervin Noronha

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Coky Giedroyc (director), Tim Firth (writer), Jane Hooks, Danny Perkins, Kate Solomon, Karl Spoerri and Viviana Vezzani (producers), Nick Foster and Oli Julian (composers), Mike Eley (cinematographer), Mark Davies (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Four friends (Bea, Lowe, Adams and Okafor) reunite to see their favourite boy band in concert…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON GREATEST DAYS?

Following in the grand tradition of The Beatles, ABBA, Elton John and even The Proclaimers, it is now Take That’s turn to lend their extensive back catalogue to a movie musical that reworks their songs into a narrative context. The 90s boy band sensation, which launched the careers of Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow, and also enjoyed a successful comeback (sans the more famous Williams) in the mid-to-late 2000s, is largely known for their upbeat and decisively non-edgy tunes that put most people in a joyful mood, which makes it all the more baffling that Greatest Days, even with its vast library of Take That hits, can’t quite hit that same lively tone.

The film, based on the hit stage musical (originally titled The Band) by Tim Firth, who also had a hand in creating the stage adaptation of his screenplay for Calendar Girls, is a well-meaning but awkwardly executed attempt to combine the band’s mood-elevating songs with a surprisingly sombre tale of lost friendships and tragic guilt, but the mix ends up creating a tonally messy number that never seems entirely sure of what it wants to be, let alone how exactly it wishes to express itself.

At first, the film follows two different strands set in different time zones, randomly cutting between one another without much consistency. The first, set in the early 90s during the boys’ heyday – by the way, all throughout the movie, the band that is so clearly meant to be Take That is only ever referred to as “the boys” – and following teenage friends Rachel (Lara McDonnell), Heather (Eliza Dobson), Zoe (Nandi Sawyers-Hudson), Claire (Carragon Guest) and Debbie (Jessie Mae Alonzo) who bond over their mutual love for their music idols, is the more successful of the pair. Here, the musical elements blend in much smoother to the plot, there’s a distinct charm in its fantastical ability to suddenly burst into song-and-dance (it’s established early on that much if not all of the choreographed numbers are part of the teens’ shared imagination), and there is an easy chemistry between the young actors that elevates the material, regardless of how generic a lot of it can get.

However, the majority of the film is focused on the more morose, and thereby less successful, other strand set during the present. In this strand, an adult Rachel (Aisling Bea), now a paediatric nurse in an uneven relationship with bearded doofus Jeff (Marc Wootton from the Nativity! franchise), wins a radio competition to see the boys perform a reunion concert in Athens, and decides to invite her now-estranged gal pals for the trip. The others have gone on to live their own lives, with Heather (Alice Lowe) now a top-end fashion designer, Zoe (Amaka Okafor) an academic wife and mother, and Claire (Jayde Adams) settled into a less glamorous life than her earlier diving career suggested, but they all meet up regardless for a long-awaited girl trip/reunion in the Greek capital.

The only one missing, though, is Debbie – and it is her situation that ultimately brings this strand of Greatest Days down a peg. The film oddly keeps her status under wraps until its dramatically convenient reveal, even though long before then it’s been easy to figure out what became of this particular character, but beyond that it creates a lingering sense of sadness that clashes greatly with the flamboyant and peppy musical numbers, leaving you a bit confused as to how you’re supposed to be feeling in the moment. One minute, you’re watching this gloomy drama about four friends trying to reconnect later in life after a major event tore them apart, but then there’ll be a big extravagant musical number with tap-dancers and flamboyant showgirls singing and dancing along to “Shine”, arguably one of Take That’s most crowd-pleasing tracks. All it does is create an uncertain atmosphere that doesn’t entirely know how to properly address the heavy themes being tackled, at least in ways that match the somewhat grounded tone it’s going for.

The balance is better handled during that first strand, which for all its cheesiness and camp does feel much more like a proper movie musical than the second half. One of the best numbers in the movie comes right at the very beginning, as one character imagines the members of her favourite boy band serenading her and popping out of every available kitchen cupboard to drown out the plate-throwing actions of her arguing parents; right there, director Coky Giedroyc strikes a considerable harmony between the lighter musical and the distressing reality it’s taking place in. It is, sadly, one of the few times even in that section where it works, for most of the songs afterward will range from out-of-place to just plain random (a queer-coded sequence set to “Relight My Fire” is lively but stops the movie dead so it can do this), while the drama between the musical numbers, especially when the action moves over to Athens, remains weirdly light and largely consequence-free to perhaps compensate for the dour overtones it’s been emitting.

There are good performances from both the younger and older versions of our main characters, and it is an ultimately good-intended production, but the overall execution of Greatest Days creates a tonal mess that never becomes the feel-good musical it clearly sets out to be, nor does it entirely do justice to even the generic populist nature of Take That’s music library.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Greatest Days is a well-intentioned but messy jukebox musical that tries to combine the lively nature of Take That’s songs with a surprisingly morose friendship drama, but the two elements don’t gel together quite as well as hoped.

Greatest Days is now showing in cinemas nationwide

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