Movie Review: The Sunlit Night
As more and more American comedians try and bridge the gap between supporting roles in Will Ferrell movies and starring roles of dramatic, emotion-based films, we get clunky, inarticulate nonsense like this, The Sunlit Night. Jenny Slate is the latest to attempt this, playing a struggling artist, Frances, who suddenly finds romance and family in the place she least expected, the Arctic circle. Slate already hit the ground running with Obvious Child, with brief roles in Hotel Artemis and On the Rocks soon following, but none provided a pedestal to display her serious tones properly. Neither does The Sunlit Night, but it was worth a try, wasn’t it?
Slate’s leading role is mired by all the juxtapositions that come from independent, romantic filmmaking. The striving passions of new directors, in this case, David Wnendt, marking his English language debut, are struck down rather frequently by producers with cold feet. This appears to be no exception, with a relatively easy, laid-back story shot in a way that makes it feel faux and conventional, there’s not a moment that stands out as vaguely engaging, let alone something of worth. Shaky camerawork colliding head-on with static, unmoving shot choices that hit the bland repertoire of independent dramas. Lighting that feels shallow and thrown in for no particular reason, philosophical questions and big moments are used as regular dialogue, rather than reigned in for special occasions.
Dialogue like this does annoy me somewhat, these characters don’t feel human. It’s a shame, too, since Slate is a strong leading character in other projects. The Sunlit Night doesn’t give her the opportunity to shine, but nobody is given such a possibility. Expressionless music choices that fit the underwhelming style of this direction. There are moments early in the film where Nils and Frances come to blows, and the emotive core is there for the taking, but Wnendt scuppers it entirely, instead too hesitant to take such a brief risk. A film that plays it incredibly safe, with all the expected, faux oddities that independent films such as this try and bring to the table.
Shot choices that border on pretentious, symmetry that tries to rival Wes Anderson but comes off as a poor man’s imitation. The Sunlit Night showcases a cluttered family living on top of one another, but immediately throws out these conventions in the hopes of taking in the fresh air of Norway. We find ourselves circling in geographical and romantic purgatory, crashing into just about every cliché the genre has to offer. Perhaps this is the sort of thing we should expect from ostentatious filmmaking, but I truly believed the talents of Slate and Wnednt would prevail. Clearly, I had too much faith.