Credit director Laurie Collyer (Sherrybaby) for trying to illuminate a corner of American life that usually evades the shining light of cinema.
For 27 years, Robert Denerstein was the film critic at The Rocky Mountain News. Read more of Robert's reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.
In her new movie Sunlight Jr., Collyer focuses on a couple (Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon) trying to eke out a living in Central Florida. Watts’s Melissa works at Sunlight Jr., a convenience store that gives the movie its title, and Dillon’s Richie — in a wheelchair after a motorcycle accident — collects disability checks.
In this world, nothing is easy. Melissa’s lecherous boss (Antoni Corone) makes her life needlessly difficult. She’s also being stalked by a drug-dealing ex-boyfriend (Norman Reedus), who happens to own the home that Melissa’s mom (Tess Harper) rents.
Melissa and Richie’s minimal-hope existence shows signs of promise when Melissa becomes pregnant. The couple begins to see a future. Still, we know it’s unlikely that Melissa and Richie — well played and nicely shaded by both Watts and Dillon — will be able to break the low-wage and dependency cycle in which they’re mired.
Sunlight Jr. is not a perfect movie, and it can feel as if Hollywood stars are slumming when they take on this kind of project, but Collyer’s drama never dehumanizes Melissa or Richie, allowing them to emerge as feeling human beings whose need for each other might have a chance of surviving perpetual hard times.