Jenny Slate, who’s made a career winning over viewers with her lovable charm, stars in the comedy-drama The Sunlit Night. Written by Rebecca Dinerstein (who also authored the book of the same name the film was based on) and directed by David Wnendt, Slate plays Frances, a stunted painter who relocates from New York City to Norway. Night co-stars Alex Sharp, Zach Galifianakis, David Paymer, Jessica Hecht, Gillian Anderson, Elise Kibler and Fridjov Saheim.

In addition to lacking a muse, Frances just broke up with her boyfriend, her parents (Paymer and Hecht) have announced they are splitting up and her younger sister, Sarah (Kibler), just got engaged.

Frances decides to get away in order to make some changes, possibly discover herself and jumpstart her career. As a result, she accepts a residency offer from Nils (Saheim), an unpleasant artist who boozes when he's not creating, to paint a barn in Norway's Lofoten Islands entirely yellow. Frances meets Yasha (Sharp), who’s in Norway to bury his father. All of it is quirky and potentially fantastic, until you see the finished product.

Filmed in 2018 and premiering at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, Night is pretty feature that wants to double as a feature-length commercial for the art world. In addition, with Frances’ breakup still fresh and Yasha hurting from the death of his father, they are the typical ingredients for a love stew that is, in effect, undercooked.

With a running time of just over 80 minutes, Night never has a chance (nor does it attempt) to dive beneath the surface with any of its proposed themes. Wnendt and Dinerstein paint the main story with broad strokes while the subplots slowly plod like a car with three wheels.

Luckily there is a bright spot – Slate. As mentioned, Slate has plenty of charisma – she's used it to win audiences over in past works such as 2017’s Landline and 2014’s Obvious Child. Slate’s Frances provides narration – speaking upon her life and often comparing her observations to famous paintings from Carvaggio and Mondrian. From that perspective, Frances likes to disconnect from real life by taking solace in works that have shaped her life.

Slate is up to task and shines in a portion of Norway with constant sunlight - but it’s not enough to elevate this otherwise drab and glacially paced project.

From what I can tell, The Sunlit Night attempts to recreate the magic of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, but fails to keep its focus. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, despite being in the wonderfully crowded Tokyo, were able to lose themselves within that huge population and interact only with each other. It created an intimacy that’s emulated by filmmakers today, which made for a beautiful love story (that actually lacked a story). In contrast, Frances and Yasha are in a lowly-populated part of Norway (they couldn't get lost if they tried) and are distracted by the locals and (not to mention) their baggage. Thus, their relationship is forced and seems entirely out of place.

Aspects like that are frustrating to witness - this is wasted potential Wnendt and Dinerstein have created.

The Sunlit Night is beautifully shot (Martin Ahlgren, Daredevil and House of Cards), though - some viewers may be able to combine that and Slate's winning performance to find some worth. But the sun has set on this quirky story as its attempts at providing a life-changing epiphany fall short.

2.5 stars out of 5

 


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