This easy on the eyes romantic tale set in idyllic Norway feels like an unfinished painting, directionless and skeletal.
The Sunlit Night starts off on the right foot, painting a picture Frances (Jenny Slate), a young artist stuck in a messy home life when her sister gets engaged and her parents announce their divorce, Frances takes an opportunity to work as an assistant on a remote island in northern Norway. Here she meets her new mentor, acclaimed Norwegian artist Nils (Fridtjov Såheim) and is tasked with helping out on an art project in which the two paint a decrepit barn in multiple shades of yellow. Just next door, a model Viking town is preparing for a traditional Viking funeral for the father of the film’s love interest, Yasha (Alex Sharp).
Directed by German-born David Wnendt, The Sunlit Night is somewhat of a letdown, from the politically humorous and eyeopening Look Who’s Back (2015)to the grotesquely beautiful coming of age story that is Wetlands (2013), Wnendt has overtly proven that he is capable in taking the helm. The amount of character his past work bleeds is in stark contrast to his newest piece, though I can see these issue arising more-so from the script than the direction.
The glaring issue with The Sunlit Night is its failure to follow through with its various narratives and characters. The said characters are frustratingly two dimensional, making it challenging to care about them as they lack development. To top this all off, the use of actors such as Zach Galifianakis, who plays the out-of-touch American tour guide who takes his job as a Viking a bit too seriously, for comic relief felt unnatural and superfluous, a strange direction to take which does nothing but muddy the films already non-existent personality.
The romantic plot between Frances and Yasha feels like it has been built upon perilous foundations, the curious Frances initially seems inquisitive of our glum, Russian born, Brooklyn raised love interest, though a romance does blossom between the two, there’s no real justification for it doing so. It’s an unlikely love story, and not like Romeo and Juliet, instead of its more the case that the two have no chemistry, and although there are a couple of engaging moments between the two, the relationship is far too shallow for any emotional investment on the side of the audience.
Visually, however, is where the film manages to hold up. Set amongst the grey Scandanavian skies, a beautiful hue of earthy colours pop out throughout the film with the use of classic artwork complimenting the story. Frances describes her thoughts through the use of famous paintings and artworks, people and situations around her are compared to said artworks, seemingly pulling them out of the frame and projecting them onto the picture.
Despite this, though, The Sunlit Night comes across as weak, missing key elements, it attempts to be a quirky-comedy, coming of age drama but comes across as brittle and lightweight, unable to harness these qualities the feature doesn’t present much, but at least it’s pretty to look at.
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