The Sunlit Night

Onward to Norway and adventure! Or whatever…

(2019) Romance (QuiverJenny Slate, Alex Sharp, Fridjov Såheim, Gillian Anderson, Zach Galifianakis, David Paymer, Jessica Hecht, Elise Kibler, Justus von Dohnányl, Olek Krupa, Dan Puck, Ginna Le Vine, Malachy Cleary, Anne Carney, Chris Carfizzi, David Corenswet, Stephanie Mareen, Seth Barrish, Michael Kostroff, Cindy Cheung. Directed by Daniel Wnendt

We are often under a microscope that family and friends peer through. They have their expectations and sometimes we work to meet them; others, we defy them in an effort to be our own person. But being under that microscope can be traumatic and depressing. Sometimes, the only way to find ourselves is to run away.

Frances (Slate) is a budding artist in New York City that is struggling to find her voice. Her instructors harshly critique her work as derivative. She lives in an incredibly cramped apartment with her father (Paymer), a well-known artist of anatomical drawings who has a penchant for speaking his mind and is, to put it bluntly, a bit of an asshole. Her mother (Hecht) is a textile artist whose success has been overshadowed by her husband. Her sister Gaby (Kibler) has gotten engaged to her boyfriend whom her father hates with a passion. Frances’ own boyfriend has just unceremoniously dumped her. And her parents are splitting up.

Frances, with these compounded issues, is reeling. She decides to take an internship in Norway with Nils (Såheim) a notoriously reclusive artist. He is working on a project on an island above the arctic circle where the sun never fully sets in the summer. The project – which involves painting an old barn a variety of shades of yellow – is, Nils hopes, going to be included on a map of art-related tourist spots that the Norwegian National Museum is compiling. He doesn’t handle people very well, and expects Frances to work like a mule, leaving her little time for her own art, which she was hoping to work on during her internship.=

She spends time at a local Viking village recreation whose chieftain (Galifianakis) is actually an American from Cincinnati. Also visiting the island is Sasha (Sharp) whose father just passed away and requested a Viking funeral on this island where he had chosen to live out the remainder of his days. Sasha is a New Yorker whose parents were Russian immigrants, and his estranged mother (Anderson) is there to throw a monkey wrench into things. For Frances’ part, she finds the vulnerable New Yorker fascinating. Is there a romance blooming in the land of reindeer and snow?

Most of the movie reference sites online list this as a Romance, so I have done the same, but it isn’t really accurate. This isn’t about the relationship between Frances and Sasha; it’s more about the romance between Frances and herself. In a lot of ways, this is more of  coming of age film than a romance. We see Frances growing from someone lost and adrift into someone who has something meaningful to contribute.

There’s a bit of the manic pixie dream girl to Frances, although one could never use the term “manic” when it comes to Jenny Slate. She is not everybody’s cup of tea, with a voice that sounds like Jennifer Tilly voicing a toddler, but she is a capable actress and tends to shine in these indie films when she’s given the right material. She also gets to do the voiceover narration (which isn’t intrusive, thank the Great Gahoo) but she gets to say things like describing her New York apartment as “A Mondrian of claustrophobia” and referring to her internship as “Arctic detention.”

Also worthy of note is the cinematography which is borderline breathtaking. What isn’t is the infestation of indie tropes and clichés that make me wonder at times if this wasn’t filmmaking by check box. That gives the movie what I believe to be an unintentionally retro feel. There’s also an over-reliance on the use of masterwork paintings to explain the action or various characters in it.

Still, it’s solid enough to check out. Slate should already be on the radar of a number of indie film aficionados and the lovely Norwegian countryside as well as the strong dialogue make this worthy of notice. Still, if indie films of the last 15 years have gotten you wary of the same old thing, this might not be the film for you.

REASONS TO SEE: The dialogue is pretty snappy. Some beautiful cinematography.
REASONS TO AVOID: A lot of indie film tropes.
FAMILY VALUES: There is sex, profanity and nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rebecca Dinerstein Knight wrote the screenplay, adapting her own novel.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/21/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 33% positive reviews, Metacritic: 47/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Lady Bird
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
The Wandering Earth

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