SUNLIGHT JR. (2013)

December 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

Sunlight-jr (6/10) Naomi Watts got a bit of press earlier this year by starring in the little seen biopic ‘Diana’ about the People’s Princess who died in a paparrazi-caused car crash in 1997. The real-life paparazzi took numerous photos of the production, showing Watts in character. The film tanked. Critics ripped it a new one and it got no distribution. Came and went with the wind. Occasionally films that are hyped up with an oversaturation of pre-release or even pre-production press collapse under the weight of their own sense of importance and relevance.

On the flip side are the films Hollywood makes with the intention of keeping the story as small and modest as possible. Handheld cameras, proud press junket declaration of a no make-up, au natural look, or gaining weight that they usually can’t when they play it more glamorous, talking about ‘no budget, not even a trailer’ and so on. In an attempt to portray ‘average’, I don’t see much of a difference in the two extremes of film-genres proving how out of touch Hollywood can be, despite the best intentions of the filmmakers.

Watts made just such a smaller film this year, too, co-starring Matt Dillon, that never even got a theatrical release. It’s titled ‘Sunshine, Jr.’ and it’s about a working class couple in Florida trying to make ends meet with a baby on the way on a single income at minimum wage. Dillon is Watts’ disabled boyfriend, Norman Reedus is her redneck stalker of an ex and Watts works at a Quick-e-mart type store called the Sunlight, where she talks to her manager about getting community college classes or a management training program.

It’s the kind of film wealthy, glamorous actors pine to make because they get to skuzzy themselves up, spout lines that make them sound less educated and unaccustomed to money or downright desperate for even the smallest stroke of luck, the kind of people interviewed on the news standing outside a job fair or in line to apply at the newest factory.

Now, granted, it’s called acting and most actors grow up working class as the majority of people do, so they know something of economic struggle. However, I feel it’s a tall order for actors to play average and not come across as being exaggerations of real people, not feel like they’re embodying a character that is supposed to depict ‘real people’ in much the same way they might get to play ‘against type’. While I am sure a low budget ‘slice of life’ drama is far more appealing than reacting against pinpoints on a green screen and tennis balls representing monsters, it’s sometimes no less a ridiculous notion.

Writers have a tendency to find the poetic or the beautiful or the intriguing within the mundane, as is our jobs, whether we’re journalists, novelists or screenwriters. We excel at exaggeration and constantly work to be subtle without causing our message to go over or under a reader’s head. Such is the case with Sunlight, Jr. where a byproduct is including standard trope-ish clichés in what are supposed to be realistic movies. Unplanned pregnancy between two people who can barely pay for themselves, coming up with desperate ways to make ends meet. Not that this doesn’t happen all the time, but occasionally when I watch a slice of life such as this, I can’t help but feel it only exists for the actors to pat themselves on the back for slumming it to be like Real People for a few weeks, where they still get paid a hell of a lot more than the minimum wage their characters are struggling to get by on.

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