‘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
‘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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org