‘Sunlight Jr.’ Movie Review – Asking the Tough Questions
The phrase “life is hard, get a helmet” may be an idiom reserved for growing up (I first heard it while watching Boy Meets World growing up), but sometimes it’s something this simple that is explored in a more serious and complex manner when it comes to filmmaking. This isn’t the first time I’ve said this (in fact, I said something similar in last week’s review of The Motel Life), but sometimes it feels like movies, if nothing else, are there to remind us that our lives just aren’t that bad. We can add Sunlight Jr. to that list because it shows us how difficult some people’s problems are and does so in a less traditional way, leading us down a different path than most similarly-themed movies.
The film’s title, Sunlight Jr., refers to the gas station/convenient store that Melissa (Naomi Watts) works at. When she’s not being harassed by her asshole boss (there’s no better way to describe him), she’s trying to make things work with her wheelchair-bound boyfriend, Richie (Matt Dillon). Despite their troublesome conditions – including living out of a motel with barely a dollar to their name – they start the movie with a great deal of happiness.
Of course, this happiness can’t last the whole time…
In life, children often bring people the most joy. However, we should all be honest, too, when we say pregnancy, birth, and raising children can be a very stressful situation…especially when you start in a pretty dire situation.
Sunlight Jr. explores, without holding back, the issues with an unplanned pregnancy and the change potential parents must go through. This transformation, as we’ve probably all unfortunately seen in real life, can be met with resistance. Some people struggle with the finances, others with the maturity, but in Sunlight, Jr. it appears to be all of the above.
Without seeing the movie, it may sound like a convoluted birth control campaign, similar to a movie like We Need to Talk About Kevin, but it actually isn’t. You can definitely claim preparedness and maturity are major messages, but I have a different take on the film.
Sunlight Jr., to me, is more of a character study that uses pregnancy as a vehicle for character development. This definitely isn’t a new thing in movies; in fact, it’s probably employed a little too much. However, character change, specifically when talking about sacrifice, is a big part of this movie. In this case, I can forgive the pregnancy cliché.
Laurie Collyer (Sherrybaby), the writer/director, does a great job framing and bringing this picture to life. The movie, as it probably sounds, had a tendency to be a little too dark. However, Collyer succeeded in making likable, believable, and yet still flawed, characters. This is done best with Richie, but an argument can be made for more than just him.
Ultimately I wasn’t the biggest fan of resolution, but Sunlight Jr. still worked from start to finish in multiple areas. It all harkens back to the idea or theme relating to sacrifice. There is no bigger moment in a person’s life than the creation of their own child; however, there’s also not a better time to take a step back and look at your own life. Since the world isn’t perfect, Laurie Collyer’s Sunlight Jr. asks the difficult question some of us like to ignore: is this a situation worth being born into? Not only does it ask the question, but it answers it.
Sunlight Jr. premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival where it was nominated for Best Narrative Feature. It released on Video On Demand services October 7th with a limited theatrical release set to start this weekend.
Follow me on Twitter @jmacle