Title: Sunlight Jr.
Gravitas Ventures/ Samuel Goldwyn Films
Director: Laurie Collyer
Screenwriter: Laurie Collyer
Cast: Naomi Watts, Matt Dillon, Norman Reedus, Tess Harper
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 10/21/13
Opens: On demand October 7, 2013. In theaters November 15, 2013
Have you noticed the way political candidates and office-holders alike deal with the subject of poverty? George W. Bush, questioned on why he did not favor Medicare for all, stated that for treatment, “the uninsured can go to the emergency room,” as though that gives them the same care as the insured. Both major candidates for the U.S. presidency, Barak Obama and Mitt Romney spoke forever about “the middle class.” Where are the voices for people who are referred to as trailer trash? Who represents them?
If Laurie Collyer does not tell us who represents the so-called trailer trash in her naturalistic drama “Sunlight Jr.,” she certainly tells us a lot about them, without raising the possibility that they will lift themselves out of poverty or that they even understand the need to prepare for life in advance in order to avoid the trap entirely. In a well-acted piece of social realism that makes us in the audience sympathize with the plight of the struggling couple despite their self-destructive habits, Collyer hones in on Melissa (Naomi Watts) and her boyfriend Richie (Matt Dillon), who live in a Florida motel room. Richie is disabled from an accident he incurred at the age of nineteen and is an alcoholic. He gets by on disability checks. One wonders how he can maintain a car though he siphons off gas from another vehicle and how he can afford his habit of cigarettes at $11 a pack in addition to his alcohol.
Melissa is working minimum wage in a convenience store where she takes guff from her sleazy boss and gives back to him as well. She has a problem with lateness to work. If she is to be taken as a representative of the unskilled working class and underclass, we can guess that these folks do not plan much for the future, the best example being that when she becomes pregnant, the future father thinks that he will be “an awesome dad.” Yet when she reports that she had been to the hospital for an ultrasound, he becomes ballistic at the expected charge. How does he expect to be awesome if he cannot even afford to pay the hospital bill for the checkup? Does he think that would be the only expense for a kid for the next twenty-one years? And when a doctor advises Melissa to eat healthy, does the loving couple know what that means? Not so much, as when Richie offers his s.o. an extra strip of bacon “for the baby.”
What’s an underprivileged person in the movies if that person does not have a relationship with a drug dealer? As Melissa’s former boyfriend and now a stalker, Justin (Norman Reedus) is a scary-looking gent and yet Melissa, for all her resistance to the guy, hopes to get money from him. For her part, Tess Harper, performing in the role of Melissa’s mom, Kathleen, tries to make do on money she gets for taking care of foster children but who shares Richie love for the bottle and was criticized by the social worker for having insufficient food in her cabinets. Aside from the love that Melissa and Richie feel for each other, there is not much hope of their ever getting out of poverty.
Among the points that Collyer makes is that women, as opposed to men, have to bear the brunt of sexual harassment, stalking, and a fear of rape and robbery particularly if they have to work the graveyard shift as cashiers like Melissa may be expected to take. “Sunlight Jr.,” an ironic title that comes from the name of the convenience store, might be the kind of movie you’d find on cable. The film should attract an audience that does not expect miracles to happen during any concluding scenes, but at the same time makes us in our seats optimistic that at least Missy and Richie can look forward to the continuance of a loving relationship.
Unrated. 95 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B-
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B