• Nate Adams

Review: Jenny Slate’s uneven 'The Sunlit Night' fades from view


Courtesy of Quiver Distribution

There’s a handful of charming and colorful scenes in the Jenny Slate comedy “The Sunlit Night,” but too often it falls back on tired genre troupes to emerge as a winning picture. Whether it’s broken relationships, quirky family dinners, or a ditsy antagonist searching for love, nothing in the picture stands out as truly memorable.

Slate plays Frances, a struggling artist who was supposed to travel abroad for an apprenticeship with her boyfriend, however, when she gets dumped, not only does her younger sister announce her engagement, but her parents are also getting separated. Talk about bad luck. So, to maintain her own sanity, Frances packs up and heads to Norway to help Nils (Fridtjov Saheim) finish painting a barn using shades of yellow, so he can gain acceptance from a prestigious art guild.

Upon arrival, Frances learns her host isn’t keen on hospitality, as he likes to work 12-hour days around the clock and hates small talk. In other words, Nils is a big grump who can’t see any silver of optimism in the world he lives in. Enter Yasha (Alex Sharp) who works at a bakery in New York City with his Russian immigrant father. Why is he in Norway? Because there’s a Viking population (led by Zack Galifianakis) that will bury his father in the traditional way of Viking lore just as dad intended. Gillian Anderson shows up for reasons I can’t explain - playing Yasha’s mother - other than she was the only big name available for one day of shooting.

And there lie the major issues with “The Sunlit Night,” it struggles, in the span of 84 short minutes, with who the narrative is going to center around. Clearly the story belongs to the whimsical nature of Frances, but other characters often infringe on that and steal away the limelight. Considerably, when Frances and Yasha start to form this unconventional relationship, it comes so far out of left field, you wonder if the editor magically removed the 10 minutes explaining their backstory.

Give Slate props for maintaining a bubbly energy and presences on screen as she excels under Martin Ahlgren’s gorgeous cinematography, but director David Wnendt and writer Rebecca Dinerstein (based on her own novel) struggle to lock down a key central focus and that ultimately holds “The Sunlit Night” back from shining much brighter.

Grade: C-

THE SUNLIGHT NIGHT will be available via digital July 17th - check your listings