Sundance 2019 – The Sunlit Night

Director David Wnendt (of “Wetlands” fame) joins forces with newly minted poet-turned-novelist Rebecca Dinerstein to adapt her novel of the same name into the movie “The Sunlit Night.” The title refers to the 24 hours of sun her onscreen counterpart Frances (Jenny Slate) experiences during an extended stay on an island in Norway.

But that’s about all of the facts you will find in this work of fiction. The rest of the drama, including but not limited to a project to paint an entire barn, the belligerent artist in charge of this strange residency, Frances’ love interest, and his familial encumbrances… all fiction. Not that I mind fiction, but whereas real life can be unbelievable at times, as Mark Twain was quoted as saying: “…fiction needs to be credible.” But much of “The Sunlit Night” just isn’t.

After a rocky week wherein her own art project falls short, she fails to get even a job she barely wants, her model-handsome boyfriend breaks up with her just when her younger sister gets engaged, Frances’ parents get separated.

All of this desperation leads to the decision to get away from the Big Apple and go just about as far north as she can.

Meanwhile, a young man named Yasha toils away in his father’s bakery in the same city, but he and Frances never meet. He’s too busy making the pastries that feed NYC’s endless stream of blue-collar workers stopping by for a quick bite, as well as a mysterious older gentleman who makes a point to visit and to make his visits memorable.

But when Yasha’s father dies – you guessed it – he requests that he be buried on Frances’ tiny island in the Arctic Circle. They meet and ludicrously quickly fall in love and reject all manner of opportunities to instead eventually be with each other back in the states.

Slate is in the lead as Frances, and she’s just charming enough to make you overlook how annoying her character can be. Zach Galifianakis provides comedy relief from all the neurosis on display as an expatriate, wannabe Viking. Gillian Anderson’s Russian accent is good as Yasha’s long-lost mother, and so is she (for as long as she’s around) which is to say, not much. Even the aforementioned Mysterious Gentleman makes an appearance up north.

Both Yasha and Frances’ stories are fine as they are (although Frances’ line is far more developed than Yasha’s), although not extremely interesting. However, once entwined, the credulity is strained to the point of indifference. It’s all well and good, but almost pointless. If you’re going to ask me to believe your slice of life story, at least make your slices part of a satisfying sandwich.

One of a trio of movies whose endings undermined the whole (“The Silence of Sound’” and “The Tomorrow Man”), viewing “The Sunlit Night” is akin to sitting through someone’s photo album of a vacation you didn’t take; it’s only as interesting as it can be considering you weren’t on the trip, and the pics don’t do their experience justice.

Check out the Q&A from a screening at the SLCC Grand Theater here!

“The Sunlit Night.”

RUN TIME 106 min

Director: David Wnendt

Writer: Rebecca Dinerstein

See all of our Sundance Coverage here!

Richard Bonaduce
Richard Bonaduce
Rich Bonaduce was born and raised in Pennsylvania but has lived in Utah now for half his life. In addition to being a regular contributor as a Film Critic for Salt Lake Magazine, he is also the Film Critic and Entertainment reporter for FOX13’s weekly morning show Good Day Utah. He’s also a drummer in local band “Mojave Rose,” and is much shorter than he appears on television. You've been warned.

Similar Articles

Most Popular