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USA 2013
Directed by
Laurie Collyer
94 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Sunlight Jr

If you’re a fan of Naomi Watts or Matt Dillon or both, as I am, you won’t be disappointed with their performances in Laurie Collyer’s American-style kitchen sink drama about a couple, Melissa and Richie. They live together in the urban margins of Florida in a crummy motel, she working at a convenience store called Sunlight Jr (irony all the way here) and he wheelchair-bound filling in his days by boozing, hanging out with the other burn-outs at the motel and fixing up used electronic equipment that no-one wants. When she falls pregnant they see a rainbow of happiness (see above re irony) but it is all too brief as their circumstances and weaknesses choke off their fleeting hopes.

That sounds like a pretty depressing scenario and it is but Collyer doesn’t rub our noses in the misery. Rather she focuses on her characters and particularly Watts’s Melissa. Although the actress is perhaps a little too mindful to suit the demographic which she is supposed to represent (compare for instance the other motel residents and Melissa’s alcoholic mother played by Tess Harper and drug-peddling ex-boyfriend played by Norman Reedus) Watts, like Dillon, has long specialized in playing troubled characters stoically fighting life’s misfortunes and with Melissa she delivers yet another strongly empathetic performance. Few will not feel her pain when she realizes that she must wrest back what little control she has over her life. Dillon, in a performance that recalls somewhat his turn in Factotum (2005) fits into his role effortlessly and his Richie is too a character whose pain we feel.

Overall, writer-director Collyer’s only second feature (her first, Sherrybaby, in 2006 also dealt with a struggling female lead character) tends to sit between the two horses of high drama and low realism. Perhaps had she emphasized one or the other tendency this would have been a stronger film. Notwithstanding, as a distaff romance Sunlight Jr is a nicely-crafted work with palpable heart.




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