Sunlight Jr. (2013)
★★ / ★★★★
“Sunlight Jr.,” written and directed by Laurie Collyer, is a bare bones picture in that is a but peek into a life of a couple with barely enough money to get by. There is no beginning or end, not even a standard parabolic dramatic path typically found in works of fiction. On some level, I admired it. Still, I am not sure as to who the picture is intended for.
It shows poverty in a realistic way. Most might ask why Melissa (Naomi Watts) and Richie (Matt Dillon) are not shown to be more practical especially since they are continually pushed to desperate financial situations. For instance, although Richie has lost the use of his legs, why is he not able to to get a job? I offer superficial answers. First, he is an alcoholic. Second, he has not yet come to terms with his handicap. Third, I believe that a part of it involves depression—not one we always see represented in the movies but the kind that exists in the real word, the kind of depression that is too common yet not always recognized.
Though Dillon and Watts are capable of delivering the necessary gravity to create believable characters, their performances are not completely transformative. Their clothes appear to look as though they have been washed too many times and their hair could use a bit of clean-up but I consistently saw movie stars doing their job. As a result, I was unable to invest emotionally in the characters. We recognize Richie and Melissa’s plight but we do not feel like we are ever in their shoes.
Perhaps the picture might have had more of an impact if the lead characters were played by unfamiliar faces. I am talking about ordinary faces, plain statures, and body types that may not be considered appealing or attractive. The film is supposed to be rooted in realism. And yet when I walk into a convenience store, I never see anyone who look like Watts behind the counter. I may see someone who looks like Paul Giamatti or DJ Qualls. I don’t mean to be insulting to these performers. What I mean to say is that if the material wishes to get down and dirty, every element must fit or else it may come across as phony at times.
One of the implicit questions asked is whether love is enough to withstand the winds of adversity. I enjoyed that it offers conflicting answers. One of the most common words used to describe the film is “depressing.” I don’t think that it is. At least not really. Yes, what the couple goes through is tough. We watch their every day battles—whether it be about work, unspoken disappointments between the couples, things that must be sacrificed. But if one looks closely, there is always a silver lining.