**Warning: Review contains slight spoilers**
“Sunlight Jr” is a 2013 film directed and written by indie filmmaker Laurie Collyer touching on themes of enduring love, trying to scrape by on near-poverty row, emotional pain, abuse and disability about a Floridian couple who, just making ends meet in barely-paying minimum wage jobs, are saddled with an unplanned pregnancy. If that doesn’t sound grim enough, add in the fact that she has just gotten fired from her job and they may become evicted from the hotel they life in. This movie gives almost a whole new meaning to depressing.
Matt Dillon and Naomi Watts portray the aforementioned couple, Melissa and Ritchie, giving two nuanced and almost unsettlingly naturalistic performances that make you feel as though you are watching a documentary on a downtrodden couple whose life is shattering to pieces in front of your very eyes. The tangible chemistry between the two actors adds a certain spice to the screen that makes the two characters seem all the more realistic, you can feel every emotion of their anger, despair, hopelessness, and love for each other that it almost crushes your heart watching the plot unfold. One other performance I absolutely must single-out however is Norman Reedus’ volatile and sceen-grabbing portrayal of Melissa’s abusive, violent ex Justin. While his character was utterly hateable in every which way but loose, a complete polar opposite from Ritchie and Melissa, his undaunted performance hit all the right notes.
As someone who has been around poverty before and knows what living on minimum wage feels like, and who knows both directly or indirectly the feelings of anger, frustration, depression, hopelessness, etcetera the comes from a living situation such as this I can honestly say without hesitation that Laurie Collyer’s screenplay is one of the most gut-wrenchingly realistic portraits of poverty, unplanned life events, and desperation I have ever seen commited to the screen. There are no bright moments, there are no overly positive scenes; the movie glooms and swallows every last little fragmented glimmer of hope in sight. The grim setting and emotions of this movie burrow into your soul and hollow out every little bit of life left, making the only thing still standing left at the end of the ordeal is a sense of the everlasting, till-death-do-us-part love shared between Melissa and Ritchie. That’s the only true brightened spot of this movie, the beautiful, if not at-times toxic, love they share. And that’s why I think this movie is one of the finest written in a while, because it doesn’t shy away from the darkness. Not many other films or filmmakers are touching on themes this dark: on themes of alcoholism, on the theme of abuse, on the theme of trying to survive and make ends meet day to day, and most especially on the theme of abortion. No other movie hardly anymore ever touches on abortion. And even if the movies do touch on themes of this nature, a good percentage of the time the themes are half-cooked and not well established. But, as I was implying to state, this movie, and writer/director Laurie Collyer, is pretty damn brave for implementing the subject of abortion into the movie. Is it unpleasent? Yes, however I think it needs to be discussed more in films. But hey, that is just my personal belief; I’d be just fine either way if they did or didn’t discuss it, I do however think from time to time though it needs to be brought up.
In conclusion, while the theme of undying, everlasting love between the main characters Ritchie and Melissa is alluring, the gloomy and devastating themes of hopelessness, anger, and depression will definitely put most people off, most especially if they’ve been around or have been through poverty before. However Laurie Collyer’s daringly authentic, raw, and exceedingly original screenplay and a pair of unsettlingly life-like performances from Matt Dillon and Naomi Watts make this a must-not-miss movie.
My Rating: 9/10
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