The Sunlit Night
The Sunlit Night is the latest of a bunch of indie drama/comedies starring Jenny Slate in the last few years. They usually follow a similar formula – a fish out of water situation, someone dealing with a life-changing event like death or abortion or the like, and somehow our hapless protagonist has to figure this all out on the road to whatever constitutes adulthood.
This time, the scope of Slate’s slate expands to include Scandinavian existential angst, bringing mumblecore to the land of the midnight sun.
Director David Wnendt handsomely photographs both Brooklyn and northern Norway. The movie has plenty of good bits as well. Slate singing a mourning prayer will make any good Jew plotz just a little bit, and I could watch hours and hours of the close-up inserts showing bread being made.
The rest, however, has a stilted awkwardness that makes the film (unlike the bread) feel underbaked. Take Zach Galifianakis’ role as the leader of a Viking settlement, or Gillian Anderson as the redheaded mother spouting Russian proverbs. It’s just quirky enough it should all work, and yet…
Futher, the film has odd technical issues. Lines of dialogue are dubbed poorly, even including the native English speakers. It’s obvious that things were rewritten. ADR is done with the characters staring off to the distance, which is the kind of thing you see in a lot of student films but hardly the stuff of a professional production.
Alex Sharp plays the moody baker, Yasha, who sulks his way to Scandanavia, bumping into Slate while he’s on a mission to commemorate his father. Fridtjov Såheim is a surly painter looking to exploit another in a line of assistants, while David Paymer and Jessica Hecht play the parents back home.
The film is affable enough, but at some point the saccharine storyline and mix of moods becomes a bit dreary. Rebecca Dinerstein’s script, based on her novel, feels even more indulgent than it should, as if the entire enterprise is an inside joke.
The Sunlit Night never quite coheres enough to shine. It has elements that work sporadically, but the movie needs to reign in some of its more cloying attributes and focus on a storyline as inviting and complex as the landscape in which it’s set.