Sunlight Jr. (2013)
Critic Consensus: It doesn't offer much in the way of uplift, but Sunlight Jr.'s grim storyline is offset by Laurie Collyer's empathetic screenplay and strong performances from Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon.
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Critic Reviews for Sunlight Jr.
If Sunlight Jr. does anything, it is to shine a light on the fact that the American dream is dormant notion for far too many.
Urine tests and evictions, drunken brawls and rare outbursts of tenderness and grace. Collyer takes it all in, with a clear eye and no judgment.
Collyer paints a sobering and important picture of the way many of us live now.
Despite the intensity of their performances, Ms. Watts and Mr. Dillon are only fleetingly convincing as these desperate young Americans trying to maintain a foothold.
Collyer never looks down on her characters; instead, her films have the quality of a good Springsteen song.
Audience Reviews for Sunlight Jr.
Aw, now, with a title like that, this film just has to be all perky and uplifting and whatnot. Man, I don't think this film is fooling anyone, going so far as to feature a cast that's depressing because, well, come on, remember that time when we thought Matt Dillion's career was going to stay consistently relevant? Maybe I should say that this sad little drama isn't fooling anyone because no is seeing it, because when Dillon does get work, it's either this or "Takers"... which came out in 2010. Man, Dillon has been getting no breaks lately, but hey, at least he's doing better than Norman Reedus, and if such a boast inspired you to say, "Who?", then I rest my case about Reedus' level of commercial success. Yup, and once you round out that roster with Naomi Watts, coming off a little soon after "The Impossible" and, even more heartbreaking, "Movie 43" and "Diana" (Yeah, "Adore" doesn't seem so fall-flat anymore now does it, critics?) for you to forget her other recent projects, you will find that I was right in saying that even this cast is depressing, and that right there should tell you just how harsh this film is. Shoot, this film is done by the same woman who made "Sherrybaby", so you should know what to expect, although you probably don't seeing as how now no one saw "Sherrybaby" either, probably because people aren't as into getting depressed as Laurie Collyer is. That's something of a shame, because the woman can make some decent films, or at least [u]a[/u] decent film (Yeah, I didn't see "Sherrybaby" either), if you can get past, well, all of the sad junk, in addition to some problems. I've heard this film described as "tedious", and while it's far from that, it's still pretty limp, crafting a mightily minimalist story concept into a brief, but still questionable runtime of just over an hour-and-a-half through repetitious meandering in material, sometimes backed by dry spells, and barely backed by all that much exposition. The film is developmentally lacking, having a serviceable amount of characterization, but not much outside of the bare basics, offering hardly any immediate background, and falling too short in gradual flesh-out for the characters to feel all that interesting, or even consistently likable. On top of being a little too regular in certain spots to be all that interesting, the characters have questionable traits that are often reasonably forgivable, due to empathetic scripting and acting, but have times in which they distance, trying a touch too hard to establish depths to the character's flaws. If nothing else, the film tries a touch too hard to craft a heavy drama, being generally successful in being genuine, but with grim areas that challenge your tolerance of the drama, yet still not enough for you to disregard the dramatic limitations. The film's biggest problem is perhaps its story concept's simply being simple, with only so much dynamicity and uniqueness, no matter how much it tries to compel through some heavier notes, whose effectiveness goes counteracted by aforementioned consequential shortcomings, many of which derive from ambition. I've said it time and again, and I shall say once more that the film tries a little too hard, whether when it's flavoring up its characters with flaws or when its flavoring up its drama with bleakness, and when you couple these ambitious mistakes with such lazy mistakes as dragging and underdevelopment, natural shortcomings are impossible to forget, at least until the film comes to its conclusion and ironically becomes hard to remember. While the film occupies your time, however, it keeps a fair grip on your attention through all of its flaws, partly through such smaller strengths as the cinematographic ones. Something of a cheap, very independent feature, this film can't have too much in the way of style, and it often doesn't, yet there are times in which coloration and lighting to Igor Martinovic's cinematography hits a shadowy bleakness that is not only refreshingly good-looking, but tonally fitting, and for this, credit isn't so much due to Martinovic, but to Laurie Collyer for her directorial abilities. Okay, well, Collyer has a tendency to utilize a rather '90s-esque score and soundtrack that doesn't fit in the context of certain dramatic sequences it's placed over, which is distancing enough without the accompaniment of dry spells in Collyer's thoughtful direction, and yet, when Collyer gets a grip on style and thoughtfulness, the film is not only aesthetically sharp, but dramatically sharp, drawing on what depths this minimalist drama's narrative has in such a way that is emotionally effective at times, perhaps a little too much so. I don't know if the film is quite as pessimistic as many are saying it is, but the fainthearted are sure to face a challenge, and if you can handle it, the almost manipulatively harsh storyline has some pretty worthy highlights, however sparse they may be behind a shallow story. There isn't a whole lot of intrigue to this light, when not overly heavy story, and yet, those effective occasions would have trouble standing if the effective directorial highlights didn't have a fair bit of meat to draw upon, and sure enough, there is a certain weight to this dramatic narrative about the misfortunate seeing their situation turn to new lows in sour right when things were starting to look up, and it is done justice by both a decent, if flawed directorial performance and a decent, if very flawed script. Well, I don't know if Collyer's script is so much predominantly flawed as much as it's simply limp in a lot of ways, offering only so much expository depth, yet still finding time to drag its feet and get carried away with certain dramatic elements, although there is something, as Rotten Tomatoes' consensus put it, "empathetic" about Collyer's characterization, overblown with near-distancing character flaws though it may be, and yet, it's the portrayers of the characters who most sell the depths of the characterization. There are a few memorably charismatic supporting performers, with Norman Reedus being particularly effective at times as the angry jerk of an ex-boyfriend but at the end of the day, this is all about Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon, who deliver on sharp chemistry, as well as inspired individual performances, with Watts capturing the subtle anguish of a woman trying to abandon a rocky past for a better future, while Dillon captures the frustration of a good, but flawed man whose problematic traits will haunt a life already plagued with physical disability and misfortune. As the plot thickens, the performances gradually intensify, and while the dramatic highlights to the performances come into play a little too late to make the acting generally outstanding, Watts and Dillon carry the film when Collyer isn't doing a decent job of crafting a heavy, down-to-earth drama, in spite of her being unable to draw all that much memorability. Once the light has faded, a slow, underdeveloped and sometimes overly bleak telling of a minimalist story, backed by characters of limited intrigue and likability, render the final product underwhelming, while highlights in visual style, direction and writing, and a pair of strong performances by Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon secure "Sunlight Jr." as a fair, if forgettable character drama. 2.5/5 - Fair
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