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"THE SUNLIT NIGHT"
(2020) (Jenny Slate, Fridtjov Saheim) (Not Rated)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A young woman travels to northern Norway to work for a once-famous artist she hopes will inspire her own work.
PLOT:

Frances Cohen (JENNY SLATE) is a young woman who lives in a cramped New York apartment with her sister, Gaby (ELISE KIBLER), and their parents, Levi (DAVID PAYMER) and Mirela (JESSICA HECHT). Wanting to be an artist like her parents, Frances' life could be better at the moment. Not only has she just broken up with her boyfriend to learn that her sister is newly engaged, but their parents have announced they're separating and a job she had lined up in Tokyo has fallen through.

Accordingly, she jumps at the chance to get away from it all when a summer job working for Norwegian artist Nils (FRIDTJOV SAHEIM) is offered to her. It's not long before she arrives in the small but uber picturesque coast of Lofoten where she meets her new dour boss who informs her that she'll be helping paint a barn as an art exhibit he hopes will put him back on the map. With her living quarters being an RV outside Nils' house and forced to work twelve-hours days to meet Nils' deadline, Frances has little time for her own art, but does manage to sneak off to the nearby Viking reenactment village and museum run by an American who goes by the Viking name of Haldor (ZACH GALIFIANAKIS).

There, she ends up meeting Russian immigrant turned American Yasha (ALEX SHARP) who's there to give his late father the Viking funeral he always wanted, and isn't pleased to see his mother, Olyana (GILLIAN ANDERSON), show up, what with her having never joined them in New York. As Frances contends with Nil's work demands and tries to strike up more than a passing relationship with Yasha, she gets busy doing her own artwork, hoping to be inspired by her new surroundings.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10

I'm sure there are some exceptions to the rule, but the goal of any form of art is to make the person in its presence feel one or more emotions. A song can lift your spirits, a novel can make you cry, and a painting can leave you in awe.

In that sense, movies benefit from having a variety of emotion-baiting weapons in their arsenal ranging from characters who engage and elicit your empathy to visuals and sounds that can leave you happy, sad, scared, aroused, or any other sentiment.

I've seen movies that have left me wanting to drive fast and others that have left me hungry after watching so much scrumptious-looking food being prepared. The latest such response is a serious case of wanderlust after watching "The Sunlit Night." As the title indicates, it's set in a northern location where the sun doesn't set in the summer months while also strongly suggesting the beauty of such visuals.

Directed by David Wnendt, from a screenplay by Rebecca Dinerstein who's adapted her own novel, the majority of the film takes place in Lofoten, a Norwegian Archipelago noted for its majestic seaside scenery, being one of the world's northernmost populated regions, and one where despite its location on the globe has above-average temperatures -- thanks to the Gulf Stream flowing that way -- year-round.

It's the spot where our plucky protagonist, Frances (a winning Jenny Slate), heads when her life back home in New York goes sideways. She's recently lost an art residency in Tokyo, broken up with her boyfriend only to learn that her sister (Elise Kibler) is now engaged, and learned that her parents (David Paymer and Jessica Hecht) are splitting up. At least that means all four won't be falling over each other living together in a teeny tiny apartment.

So, she jumps at the chance to head north to work with a once-famous artist, Nils (Fridtjov Saheim), who -- in the most curt and dour way possible -- tells her the arrangement isn't a residency and that she'll literally be painting a barn with him -- paint by numbers style -- for twelve hours a day.

In her downtime she visits the local Viking reenactment village where a man from Cincinnati (Zach Galifianakis) is the self-proclaimed chief; convinces the woman who works behind the scenes in the dairy display case of the local grocery store to pose nude and be painted (on canvas, not her body); and befriends a depressed young man (Alex Sharp) who's arrived with his late father's remains for a Viking funeral and isn't happy to see his long-estranged mother (Gillian Anderson) show up for the ceremony.

I haven't read Dinerstein's novel and thus can't make any comparisons, but have heard that some substantial editing was done on the film after a less than enthusiastic response to its debut at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. But it feels like something is off as all of the various elements, subplots and related emotional baggage don't mesh together and paint as pretty a picture as should have occurred.

If only any or especially all of that had elicited as much of a response in me as did the gorgeous scenery (beautifully captured by cinematographer Martin Ahlgren), then we would have been talking. More likely to inspire tourism than comments about its content, themes, and what have you, "The Sunlit Night" sure is pretty, but that's about it. It rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed July 14, 2020 / Posted July 17, 2020


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