"It's all you wanted to do, just cry. And now look at you. There's two men out there in the kitchen fightin' over you."
Sunlight Jr. is director Laurie Collyer's follow up to Sherrybaby and once again she creates a strong leading female character, but her script is weak and despite showing the reality and hardships of life it doesn't seem to be saying anything. It is just a depressing vision of lovers who are struggling to survive and keep their love afloat. We usually don't get to see this side of society represented on film, but despite her efforts and Naomi Watt's excellent performance we don't actually get anything special or revealing from Sunlight Jr. The film doesn't have anything to say and it just puts us right in the center of the lives of two people who are barely making a living and who are basically hopeless. Despite giving her lead female character a lot of substance, the rest of the cast are pretty much one dimensional. Collyer doesn't seem to like men very much as none of them in this film have any redeeming quality. Watts however had a lot to work with since her character has a lot of depth and is determined to overcome her struggles. Everyone else is just there to bring her down, and in a way they bring down the entire film as well. The storyline is just too grim for my taste. I'm not being fair with Matt Dillon, he gives a strong performance, it's just that he didn't have much to work with and like his character he is disabled by the script.
Melissa (Naomi Watts) and Richie (Matt Dillon) are happy together despite their economic struggles which force them to live at a small motel in Florida. Melissa works as a clerk at a nearby convenience store (Sunlight Jr.) winning minimum wage, while Richie who is a paraplegic is unemployed. He receives a monthly check for his disability, but it's not much. Despite the harsh conditions Melissa and Richie seem happy together, and when she finds out she's pregnant they both have something to look forward to. However their situation changes when Melissa loses her job and it takes a toll on their relationship. They are forced to move back with her alcoholic mother, Kathleen (Tess Harper), and the tension builds. There is also Melissa's ex boyfriend, Justin (Norman Reedus), who has been stalking her and complicating things even more. That is about all the drama you will get from Sunlight Jr, which doesn't really seem to explore any issues.
Sunlight Jr. might be a very authentic and realistic portrayal of an underrepresented side of society, but it really doesn't have anything to say either. It is grim and realistic, but there is no message. It's as if we got to catch a glimpse of someone's life, but we don't learn anything we haven't already seen before. The performances from Watts and Dillon are what make this film slightly tolerable, but the pacing and lack of narrative hurt this film. It is just a sad film that fails to connect with you. Sunlight Jr. can be described as a slice-of-life drama, but there isn't really much more to this indie. It is a very slow and depressing film to sit through and I think that was Collyer's intention. She's not aiming to entertain, she wants us to see the struggle these people go through, but she does so without giving us any hope whatsoever and leaves us depressed.