Review by Sean Boelman
After making a big splash on the scene with his unabashed and incendiary comedies, German filmmaker David Wnendt seems to have entered the much more comfortable portion of his career with travelogue The Sunlit Night. Charming thanks to the efforts of its cast, the movie shows a lot of potential but falters under the pressure of convention.
The film follows an American painter who, struggling to find her own voice, takes an apprenticeship with an artist in Norway, along the way discovering another American on a quest to discover his roots. Adapted by Rebecca Dinerstein from her own novel, there are some interesting ideas going on here, but the movie seems to suffer from condensing a nearly 300-page novel into under two hours.
The first half of the film, which primarily focuses on the protagonist’s artistic endeavors, is actually extremely compelling. However, once the protagonist makes the trip to Norway, it becomes a far more conventional romantic comedy, but even more aggravating is that it is underdeveloped in this regard.
Perhaps the most confusing part of the movie is a subplot involving a Viking reenactment village, and while the quirkiness of the idea is appealing at first, it wears off quickly and becomes something unusual. Out of all of the storylines, this is the one that feels most like it could have been more interesting on the page than on the screen.
Additionally, the character development in the film is somewhat lacking. The portions of the character’s arc involving her art are largely abandoned in the second half, leaving her motivation for much of the movie to be a generic quest for enlightenment. A storyline about the protagonist’s parents is also a nonstarter.
That said, thanks to the wonderful screen presence of star Jenny Slate, the film works better than it otherwise would. Although it doesn’t match up to the quality of her past indie performances, she’s still very likable nevertheless. Zach Galifianakis is the other notable name in the supporting cast, and while he is cast to type, he’s one of the least impressive parts of the movie.
And while the film does benefit from having the beautiful sights of Norway as its background, this unfortunately only goes so far. As a travelogue, it is mostly successful, but for a movie that is built around the art world, there is a disappointingly low amount of inspiration to the style and execution.
The Sunlit Night is a mostly amusing dramedy, but it doesn’t quite hit all of its intended beats with ease. Still, as a breezy, charming, and occasionally funny watch, it may be worth checking out.
The Sunlit Night hits VOD on July 17.