Sunlight Jr.

{Sunlight Jr. opens in Seattle on Friday, 11/15, and is screening at Sundance Cinemas Seattle}

Director and writer Laurie Collyer’s latest, Sunlight Jr., is an unflinching portrait of poverty.  The two lead characters struggle against a tide of horrible circumstances which test their strength and love for each other, and the little hope they experience is quickly eroded by insurmountable obstacles. 

Melissa (Naomi Watts, who is just frankly amazing in everything, but particularly in this film) lives in a shitty motel with her boyfriend, Richie (Matt Dillon) and works a shitty minimum wage job with a shitty boss in a shitty part of town called Sunlight, Jr.

She also has a shitty, abusive ex-boyfriend named Justin (Norman Reedus. I can’t. I mean. Can you just be Daryl Dixon forever instead of this guy?) that stalks her at work, and also rents a house out to Melissa’s alcoholic momma, who has a passel of neglected foster kids.

Richie’s an unemployed paraplegic who tries to make ends meet by fixing broken DVD players and televisions from the thrift shop and reselling them to friends, but he mostly spends his money on booze.

The love Melissa and Richie share perseveres, even through his drunken rants and doubts that Melissa's relationship with Justin is really over. But the only time you really see hope in both of their eyes is when they discover Melissa’s pregnant.

And at first, things seem good … or as good as they can be when you live in a motel on one person’s shitty minimum wage income and are expecting the arrival of another human you have to take care of. But her shady boss eventually insists she move to the graveyard shift, and things continue to go downhill, getting grimmer and grimmer until you see Melissa’s hope disappear completely as she makes a desperate choice.

This film is obviously not going to be on anyone’s “feel good” list—but it is a really great film. It’s gritty and depressing and devoid of hope, but Watts and Dillon fucking nail it, and Collyer is so good at what she does that you get sucked in, and remain invested in these characters and their story.

The frustrations and limited choices of this fictional world are disheartening to experience, even through the distance of a camera lens. But it’s a real world that does exist; a real world that is true for a lot of people. I think it’s good to be reminded of that sometimes, even if it that knowledge doesn’t make you feel good.