By: Brandon Kratkoczki
When I was growing up, I used to live in an older house. Because of its age, it would regularly creek (most often at night, when my 8 year old imagination could easily conjure up what hell beast was coming to rip my face off). However, for all of the monsters and ghouls that my head came up with, I never really considered the possibility that a regular human being inhabited our old house. On a completely superficial level, that’s exactly what Sunny in the Dark is about: a lonely middle aged psychiatrist has a woman living in the roof of his new cushy loft without him being aware of it. However, the film goes far beyond that: it is a meditation on human connection, love, and compassion. Though it may not be a perfect film by any means, Courtney Ware’s feature length debut is a mostly assured, emotionally effective, slightly melancholy piece that will surely find its audience.
Despite this being her feature length debut, Ware’s directing and editing was top notch. Shots were framed incredibly well, giving a real sense of place and blocking in a film so desperately needing those. Everything from the lighting to the general emotional tone of many of these shots scream the furthest thing from amateur. Her editing also greatly benefited the film; in a story split between two worlds, her creative use of her footage and visual storytelling made a seamless bridge between them. I have no doubt that we will be seeing more from her in the future, and I eagerly anticipate her future projects. Though a good director can always save a bad actor, there was no indication that most anyone in the film was creating any dead weight. A particular highlight is Hannah Ward, playing the pivotal Sunny (of attic residence). Her dialogue-light performance carried this beautiful weariness and ethereal nature that allowed me to believe that she was not merely spying on our main character to be creepy (which I applaud, as feeling creepy must have been a high risk in the execution of the character). Jay Huguley as Jonah also carries his scenes: while he does maintain an air of a professional therapist when he must, he occasionally lets his guard down, allowing the audience find the emotional truth to the arc of a lonely, depressive therapist longing for any kind of care directed towards him (when he doesn’t realise that it’s coming from above). Lee Meriwether (Catwoman herself!) is a delight as our lead’s mother, and the supporting cast rounds out the ensemble to create a believable world. The score, taking notes from Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett’s Her score, effectively enhances the mood of the scenes it’s featured in.
However, not everything can be as perfectly executed as Sunny’s stealthy sneaking around the apartment when Jonah’s away. While the screenplay is mostly effective in telling its story, there are times when it falters. The character of Jonah sometimes falls a little flat and gives in to too many tired tropes of this type of film: OF COURSE he has an ex with little to no character for him to mope about; OF COURSE he can give advice without living it himself; OF COURSE he has a record collection; OF COURSE he has eccentric, “hipster” hobbies. This doesn’t exclusively affect him, however. I don’t think I learned much about the character of Jonah’s mother apart from the fact that she REALLY wants a grandson, and there are some very unfortunately flat characterizations of the bit characters. In addition, some of the humor in the film felt out of place. This was mostly the fault of the exterminator character, who made tasteless jokes that may have been funny in almost any other context than what we see them in. The building manager, too, was mostly there to make “look how strict I am” jokes. I was completely sucked out of the film’s world whenever these characters was cracking wise on screen. Though this film does benefit when its comedy hits (including a few memorable gags with the dog), much of it could have been left on the cutting room floor or adjusted to keep the tone consistent.
Despite my complaints, I mostly enjoyed Sunny in the Dark. The unconventional story and character relationships will be enough to draw most viewers in. The rest should be attracted to the excellent technical work put on display. Though I may not be checking my ceiling any time soon for a new best friend, I will likely give this film another spin in the future.