Actors too movie-star-ish for grim kitchen-sink drama

A minimum-wage drama, “Sunlight Jr.” is an account of people who mean well, work hard and still can’t make it. The title is a particularly bitter piece of irony, because the lives of this group of south Floridians couldn’t be less cheerful at the moment.

Sunlight Jr. is the name of the convenience store where Melissa (Naomi Watts) holds down a cashier job. It’s dull work, but she hopes to snag a place in the company’s college-placement program, if only she can withstand the lazy harassment of her manager and the threat of a transfer to the dreaded graveyard shift.

Melissa lives with Richie (Matt Dillon), a boozy paraplegic. These two make the film’s early reels promising, especially for the way writer-director Laurie Collyer (“Sherrybaby”) treats this relationship; Melissa and Richie are affectionate, clumsy, sexual.

They don’t live their lives in a smart way, but they care for each other in the midst of the truly tough hand they’ve been dealt — not his injury, but the misfortune of having been born with the notable absence of a silver spoon anywhere in the vicinity.

A variety of challenges and opportunities come their way during the movie, including the predatory behavior of Melissa’s drug-dealing ex (Norman Reedus, from “The Walking Dead”) and the dismal example of her mother (a blowsy Tess Harper).

The presence of movie stars Watts and Dillon means we won’t take any of this for documentary footage, but Collyer’s realistic method veers close to re-creating the maddening behavior of self-defeating folk in reality-TV shows.

Collyer’s sympathy for her hard-luck characters is admirable, although it’s tough to cast glamorous actors in these roles and expect her dreary, kitchen-sink world to ring completely true. The going-nowhere lives are maybe a little too easy to caricature, and the sheer misery of this trap is grueling indeed.

The only thing that truly clicks is that central relationship, its moments of unexpected tenderness and support; if only Melissa and Richie could tune out the rest of the world and just be into each other. But the rest of the world keeps intruding, and it ain’t pretty.

“Sunlight Jr.” (2 stars)

Two struggling lovers (Naomi Watts, Matt Dillon) find themselves tested at the poverty level in South Florida. The actors are game but perhaps too movie-star-ish for the material, and the dismal material is pretty grueling.

Rated: Not rated; probably R for nudity, language, subject matter.

Showing: Sundance.

More in Life

Beer of the Week: 5 Rights Brewing’s Fresh hop imperial IPA

The Marysville brewery named its beer Wobbly the Laborer after the Industrial Workers of the World.

Get schooled on Texas BBQ at this Monroe restaurant in a bus

Brisket, pulled pork, sausage, chicken and the fixin’s all await you near the Reptile Zoo on U.S. 2.

Spy comedy ’Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ is laugh-out-loud funny

It’s a superficial but energetic sequel to the 2014 film about a clandestine British secret service.

Ben Stiller was born to play title character in ‘Brad’s Status’

Writer-director Mike White’s script has plenty of Brad’s voiceover, so this movie feels like a novel.

‘Friend Request’ a horror flick about the dangers of Facebook

Though it’s a little behind the times, Simon Verhoeven’s film about social media is effectively done.

39th annual Arts of the Terrace attracts regional artists

The Mountlake Terrace juried show features paintings, drawings, photography, miniatures and more.

Beer, wine, spirits: Snohomish County booze calendar

End of Summer Beer Garden Hog Roast: Seattle’s Ravenna Brewing is hosting… Continue reading

See both versions of ‘The Odd Couple’ on Historic Everett stage

The Outcast Players perform Neil Simon’s classic comedy with alternating male and female casts.

Hear new songs from Josh Clauson at Saturday release party

The producer of the Summer Meltdown music festival and Flowmotion band leader has a solo album out.

Most Read