A barn and a breakup bring a struggling artist to Norway in “The Sunlit Night,” a draggy, slow moving mess based on the novel by Rebecca Dinerstein. The book doesn’t translate well on film and, as is the case with many book to screen adaptations, there’s too much literary material crammed into a two hour run time. This makes for a rambling, exasperating experience for the audience.
It’s been a rough summer for Frances (Jenny Slate). Her latest painting has been ripped apart by critics, her boyfriend casually dumps her, and her parents announce they’re separating just moments after her sister announces a surprise engagement. Seeking a change of pace, Frances takes an opening for an art residency that “nobody else wants” on an isolated island in Norway. Her task? To help a cantankerous artist paint a giant barn in the land where the sun never sets. Things aren’t looking to bright for Frances until she crosses paths with Russian-American baker Yasha (Alex Sharp) who has come to Norway to give his father a proper Viking funeral.
The playful story is delightful and starts off strong as a funny and smart comedy. It’s when the story shifts to the dramatic romance that it gets tedious. The forced relationship happens way too fast and isn’t very believable. Slate and Sharp have zero chemistry, and I found it difficult to care even a little about their love story.
Piling on more lousiness is Zach Galifianakis as a Viking tour guide and Gillian Anderson as Yasha’s absent mother. As if almost on cue, the overacting Galifianakis tries too hard to be funny. His is a distracting, throwaway character who not only adds nothing to the story, he provides no comic relief. The story gets really dumb when mom begs Yasha to move back home with her. Just how old are these people supposed to be?
Slate, considered an acquired taste by some, is terrific here. This is the type of small scale role that showcases her talent and personality. She’s not the idealized, perfect movie star and is just a real, normal person who is very relatable. What a shame that Frances is one of the dullest, most unexciting characters ever.
“The Sunlit Night” had the chance to be a sweet little indie charmer, but it fails. Not helping things is the poor quality audio, pointing to either lazy filmmaking or re-dubbing of lines that didn’t play well with test audiences. Several of the scenes are so bad they look as if they are dubbed from a foreign language. It’s sloppy. Director David Wnendt doesn’t make enough use of the beautiful landscapes until the end. And please don’t bother trying to connect the dots because this movie is all over the place.