Take That jukebox musical Greatest Days entirely subverts expectations
Greatest Days is an adaption of a stage musical of the same name, which features the music of Take That and is not to be confused with the other Take That musical ‘Never Forget.’ (Honestly who knew there was one Take That musical let alone two?) If you were a teenage super fan in the 90s or got swept up in their all encompassing comeback in the late 2000s then there’s obvious appeal – but I’m pleased to report that there’s plenty to enjoy here for casual viewers too.
To clear things up, whilst Greatest Days uses the music of Take that – it’s not actually a musical about them. Their songs are instead projected onto a fictional band called ‘The Boys’ and are performed by the cast in story serving moments – think Mamma Mia – though the remaining members of Take That do have a small cameo.
Aisling Bea stars as Rachel, formerly The Boys ”biggest fan in the whole entire world” and now a paediatric nurse in her 40s. When Rachel wins a radio competition to attend The Boys reunion show in Athens she decides to reconnect with the teenage best friends she hasn’t spoken to for 25 years, and take them to the show with her.
The group are rounded out by Heather (Alice Lowe,) Zoe (Amaka Okafor) and Claire (Jayde Adams.) The story flashes back and fore between 1996 Clitheroe where the girls are at the height of their friendship and fandom as they head to see The Boys as excitable 16 year olds, and present day Athens where the four women are struggling to reconnect after spending their entire adult lives apart. Mixed in are a good chunk of fantasy musical sequences, as every day people burst into song and dance numbers lifted straight from the stage.
Don’t let the sunshine and dance filled trailers fool you like they did me – Greatest Days completely subverts all expectations of a summer movie musical by being really, gut wrenchingly sad for a good chunk of its sub 2 hour run time. It’s telegraphed from pretty early on that these women didn’t just drift apart, some sort of traumatic event had destroyed their friendship and Rachel in particular is struggling to recover even all this time later.
From the very opening scenes in which teenage Rachel uses the music of The Boys to distract herself from a violent home life with her parents we understand that this is thematically a film about trauma, the cheesy pop music contrasting scenes of grief, loss and reconciliation. Aisling Bea is a revelation in her dramatic moments, handling heavy subject matter with sensitivity whilst still landing the comedic beats that a wider audience might expect of her.
It’s not all doom and gloom though and the joyful silliness of Greatest Days often comes from the universal experience of fandom, of teenage obsession that we can all relate to no matter how old we are now or who we ”stanned” as a kid. I’m a little too young to have been a Take That super fan, by the time I was 16 it was a different band that saw me rushing home to watch their videos, queuing to buy their merch and loitering outside venues they were playing at just to try and catch a glimpse – yet I could see myself in these girls, and I’m sure thousands of others will recognise themselves too.
My only complaint really is that it’s the story line and not the songs that make Greatest Days a decent movie – in many scenes I felt that the Take That songs just weren’t strong enough to support the scenes they were being used in. Maybe proper fans would disagree with me but I couldn’t help but feel that there’s a fair amount of forgettable filler in their back catalogue, and the cast struggled to add meaning to even some of the bigger hits – they’re just a bit too bland. It’s not like they’re outright bad though, and when combined with big theatrical dance pieces it’s enough to keep you smiling and toe tapping along.
Greatest Days has all the hallmarks of heart-warmingly twee British cinema and will leave you feeling good at the end with its catchy pop songs and technicolour, glitter clad chorus lines – yet its surprising depth is what sets it apart from other films of this genre. A film about friendship and how those we love never really leave us, it’s a well balanced blend of melancholy and nostalgia. Well worth taking a punt on, no matter your view on Barlow and co.
Greatest Days is out in cinemas on 16th June 2023