Review: 'The Sunlit Night'
There is something to be said about light comedy.
It’s a great addition to the usual offerings on our movie menus.
You might consider it the movie equivalent of comfort food.
Basic stuff that just makes us feel good. We all need it from time to time.
That would apply to The Sunlit Night. It’s one of those movies that would stick in your head if you happened to catch it at a film festival.
For lack of a better description, it’s one of those quirky little low-budget independent films that is content to be sweet and charming.
It wants to take you on a journey, make you laugh a little and leave you smiling.
The Sunlit Night is the story of a struggling artist named Frances (Jenny Slate).
She’s young, attractive, diminutive, but determined to become successful despite some rejection in her life, rejection of her work by a trio of critics at an art gallery and rejection from her handsome boyfriend who has just dumped her.
She lives with the kind of wackily dysfunctional family that we often encounter in comedy films.
They all live in a tiny, ridiculously overcrowded little apartment.
Her younger sister has just announced her engagement to a man her parents despise. The parents announce that they have decided to split up.
Frances decides that it’s time for some major changes.
She grabs an opportunity to get away to Norway to become the assistant to an eccentric curmudgeon of an artist who is painting a barn, that is to say, turning an old, abandoned barn into a colorful work of art that he intends to submit for consideration in an art contest.
As is the case in many romantic comedies, the two of them are polar opposites in every way. The only common ground is their deep passion for art.
Art is the central theme of The Sunlit Night.
Frances is the daughter of artists, raised in an art world, who sees everything in terms of art.
It becomes a running gag throughout the movie when she compares things that she sees or people that she meets to paintings that she’s seen.
Art is her filter.
Jenny Slate wastes no time winning your heart as a sweet faced, sheltered young woman whose wide-eyed youthfulness, trustworthy spirit and lack of street smarts could prove to be her undoing on this adventure so far from home in a such a strange, unfamiliar environment.
She finds herself working exhausting 12-hour days essentially “painting by the numbers” after which she retreats to a small trailer that has become her temporary home, complete with a baby goat that has wandered in.
Adding to the surreal quality of her experience is the fact that the sun shines 24-7 (as alluded to in the movie’s title).
And if that weren’t enough, she discovers that she is living near Viking Village, a ramshackle, Viking-themed park run by an oddball nerd king who could only be played by Zach Galifianakis.
X-Files fans will love the casting of Gillian Anderson in a subplot that I don’t want to give away. But it does involve a modern-day Viking-style funeral.
The Sunlit Night is strong on characters, particularly its main character. Jenny Slate is worth the price of admission (or rental).
She brings a delicate balance of vulnerability and inner strength to her character. And she gets it just right.
The same can be said of the cinematography and lighting.
Norway has so much natural beauty to offer and the movie takes full advantage. On one level, it’s a mini vacation to a picturesque world of natural beauty.
The music is also worth mentioning here.
The ballads and songs compliment landscapes that beg to be paintings.
Everything works to perfection.
As with many independent films, there is no big spectacular moment with epic overtones.
There is no Hollywood vibe. And no splashy, over-the-top Hollywood ending.
Instead, it’s a low-key journey of self-discovery that offers a mix of laughter and some tears along the way.
It does what exceptional indie films do, namely make a lovely little film out of a limited budget.
The Sunlit Night shines a little ray of sunshine.
In the current context of COVIC-19, it has the power of brightening out spirits in a summer stripped of picnics and pools warm weather activities.
It’s a contemporary Alice in Wonderland kind of story, with some colorful characters and a bit of no-nonsense life-lesson advice that you’ll laugh at and think about.
The Sunlit Night is available on VOD on July 17.