When the Tribeca Film Festival recently came around, I jumped at the chance to catch Sunlight Jr.. The follow up to the Golden Globe nominated gem Sherrybaby, by talented director and screenwriter Laurie Collyer, she was inspired by Barbara Ehrenreich's book Nickled and Dimed for this piece. Laurie admits her films have a common DNA thread running throughout. She is thankfully consistent and true to her own unique vision.
This film depicts the relevant challenges of basic human survival, bathed in the warmth of love.
You are pulled and locked in place by the intense and fully immersed performances of actors Naomi Watts, Matt Dillon, Norman Reedus and Tess Harper. The amazing, lush cinematography by Igor Matinovic and musical score by J Mascis, also serve to make the journey a more affective and poignant one. It stays with you after you've left the theatre as you absorb the haunting honest power of it.
Set in a poor area of Southern Florida, Melissa (Naomi Watts) works in a convenience store (Sunlight Jr.) for minimum wage. Her boyfriend Richie (Matt Dillon), is a paraplegic bound to his wheelchair and living off disability. They are deeply in love and their love life is very sexy, adding a touch of spice to a rather grim, sometimes depressing life. A life with limitations because of limited funds and less than ultimate circumstances. It is understandable the characters turn or have turned to drugs and excessive drinking to self medicate and temporarily escape. Though they may not be living their fullest potential, you feel a certain amount of respect and compassion for their ability to forge ahead and survive. You also end up appreciating your own blessings more.
Melissa deals with an abusive, white trash, creepy ex boyfriend played with great accuracy by Norman Reedus. He is in full stalker mode since the restraining order she put on him is up. She also has to face an abusive, obnoxious boss (Antoni Conone) who enjoys tinkering with his porn magazine display, a lot.
Eventually Melissa discovers she is pregnant and joyously shares the news with an equally happy Richie. In one of my favorite moments, they're lying in bed imagining if they have a daughter. Richie says, "My daughter's gonna be a little ass kicker just like her mama." It sums up the respect, support and even humor they share together.
Melissa gets assigned to the graveyard shift at the store. When Richie tries to give her a break to nap and goes behind the counter all is captured on hidden camera. She loses her job. They get evicted from the seedy motel and move in with her mother. Her mom, perfectly played by Tess Harper, tries to be supportive and positive through her alcoholic haze. As the situation becomes even more dismal, Melissa reluctantly pays Justin a visit to ask for financial support. He goes off on her, puts her down and then kicks her out. She is left thinking about the kind life her child would be in for. You get the feeling Melissa and Richie will figure it out. You're reminded. how powerful and comforting the connection of a truly loving relationship can be.
Even in the darkness of barely getting by, a flicker of sunlight dances with hope.