Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon bring standout performances to working class drama SUNLIGHT JR.
The spotlight burns red hot this fall for actress Naomi Watts thanks to luxury sets, international locations, a familiar designer wardrobe and arguably the world’s most famous haircut. I’m talking about Watts’ starring role as “the people’s princess,” Diana, the Princess of Wales, in director Oscar Hirschbiegel’s bio-drama Diana.
Yet, the true spotlight role, the better movie that showcases Watts’ impressive dramatic skills takes place far away from the red carpet and unfolds on the opposite of the tracks in Florida in the couples dramaSunlight Jr.
Watts joins writer/director Laurie Collyer (Sherrybaby), and Matt Dillon in a grounded and heartfelt blue-collar story about Melissa and Richie, a working poor Florida couple expecting their first child while experiencing financial difficulties.
Watts is something of an expert at melodramas thanks to her roles in ensemble tales like Mother and Child and showier true stories from Fair Game (playing exposed CIA operative Valerie Plame) to J. Edgar (playing Hoover’s loyal assistant Helen Gandy).
In a movie that’s frequently heartbreaking to watch, Watts brings to life a woman fully aware of her limited resources while balancing her desire to have a baby.
It’s a complex and grounded performance that goes beyond the political rhetoric about the 99% and low-paying jobs and working people without good health care.
Watts brings emotion to the socio-political themes throughout the movie and makes Melissa’s struggles painfully understandable and perhaps, relatable.
As Richie, an injured laborer steadily sinking into a welfare lifestyle, Matt Dillon matches perfectly with Watts. Together, they capture the harsh realities of running out of gas in your beater car simply because you don’t have the money.
Dillon, last seen in the action dramas Takers and Armored and best known for comedies like There’s Something About Mary and You, Me and Dupree, makes good use of his dramatic talents as Richie. His performance is a throwback to early work in The Outsiders and Drugstore Cowboy and more recent movies like Crash. Dillon is an actor of gravitas if only given the chance.
For Laurie Collyer, director of the little-seen Sherrybaby and the documentary Nuyorican Dream, it’s as if she’s single handedly reviving the blue collar genre and shifting the focus away from YA fantasies and action blockbusters to true life tales about America’s working poor.
Collyer tells political stories about down-and-out people, which means she tells risky stories about people and places usually ignored by moviemakers. There’s a great tradition for blue-collar storytelling streaming through the history of movies from Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront) to Martin Scorsese (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) to Paul Schrader (Blue Collar). I hope Collyer revives the genre and brings these stories back to cinemas.
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Cast: Naomi Watts, Matt Dilon, Tess Harper, Noman Reedus
Screenwriter: Laurie Collyer
Director: Laurie Collyer
Composer: J. Mascis
Cinematographer: Igor Martinovic
Producers: Original Media, Freight Yard Films, Alchemedia Films, Empyrean Pictures
Running time: 90 minutes
Release Date: November 15, 2013