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Originally published Thursday, November 14, 2013 at 3:05 PM

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‘Sunlight Jr.’: a small, sad world, thoughtfully rendered

A three-star review of “Sunlight Jr.,” which stars Naomi Watts as a Florida convenience-store clerk struggling to get by.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 3 stars

‘Sunlight Jr.,’ with Naomi Watts, Matt Dillon, Norman Reedus, Tess Harper. Written and directed by Laurie Collyer. 95 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains nudity, sexuality and strong language). Sundance Cinemas.

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Things change quickly in the movie world: Last week, Naomi Watts was roaming the halls of Kensington Palace in “Diana”; this week, she’s a near-homeless Florida convenience-store clerk in “Sunlight Jr.” Though she brings conviction and honesty to both roles, she’s even more affecting in this one. As Melissa, a woman who seems to have never caught a break, she speaks in a soft, faintly Southern twang, and her blue eyes seem to be constantly looking for a reason to hope.

Melissa shares a rundown motel room with her disabled boyfriend Richie (Matt Dillon), endures humiliating drug tests and a petty tyrant of a boss (Antoni Corone) at work and struggles to maintain a relationship with her hard-drinking mother (Tess Harper), who takes in (and neglects) foster children to help pay the bills. It’s a grim life, but suddenly a ray of hope emerges: Melissa finds that she is pregnant, and wonders if this child might somehow bring some light. (The movie’s title is the name of the convenience store in which she works — but has a dual meaning.)

Writer/director Laurie Collyer (“Sherrybaby”) has a keen eye for details: the nagging, insipid door chime whenever someone enters or exits Sunlight Jr.; the constant cigarettes; the flat light of the thrift store where Melissa gazes at a baby outfit; the tiny star earrings she always wears, as if echoing her dream of finding a bigger world. It’s a sad, thoughtful film, and you leave it without much belief that things will get better for these characters — but you believe in them, which makes it even sadder.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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