A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Sweet Sunshine is a country musical with faith-based elements. It feels kind of like the filmmakers wanted to make A Star Is Born without the mature content: There's no swearing (except for one "dammit"), no alcoholism (an unlikable character drinks wine and champagne), no sex (just kissing), and no suicide. Even the tragedies have happy endings -- and that's because the movie's message is, "When God closes a door, he opens another one." That said, parents might want to know that a fiery car crash is shown, there's some punching/fighting, and there's a moment of attempted incest. But the young woman in question escapes the situation immediately by kicking the violator in the crotch. After a group prayer, God quickly heals someone who was at death's door.
What's the story?
Is it any good?
Country music and Christianity may go together like apple pie and the American flag, but this musical waters down the country, the Christianity, and the film it seems to be knocking off. Director Craig McMahon's Sweet Sunshine is like A Star Is Born without the interesting parts (or a solid script). There's plenty that doesn't work here, including the title character, Sunshine (Savanah D. McMahon), a free spirit who left home in her custom Mustang ... but we don't know why. She becomes homeless, but the movie's opportunity to shine a spotlight on the spiral of poverty is dismissed to instead instantly solve her problem by giving her a home, a boyfriend, and a career as a country singer in one night. No kidding. It's implied that it's all God's work, but that's really creating a lot of false expectations for Him from young viewers.
As TJ, Way is amiable and charming, demonstrating some real talent -- this is a kid who's going places. Featuring songs written by Louis Yoelin and performed by Way and McMahon, the movie's music is also surprisingly and consistently good -- quite unexpected for a low-budget, regional production. Alas, the quality of the musical performances draws attention to the poor audio throughout the rest of the film: It sounds as hollow and echo-y as if a boom mic was set up 10 yards away. And even though music is one of the film's main focuses, the way it's presented in Sweet Sunshine goes against the grain of modern filmmaking. Back in the early days of cinema, the action would stop to see a star perform a song because movies were the only visual medium in which people could see a performance -- there was no TV or YouTube. Eventually, the accepted practice became that when an entire song was to be performed, the music must connect to the storyline. But what we have here are unknown actors performing an album's worth of singles; not the most compelling proposition. While the quality of the music may provide a ray of light, Sweet Sunshine is a bit like being stuck at home on a rainy day.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about their beliefs regarding the power of prayer. What do you think about how Sweet Sunshine portrays it?
How does this film compare to other faith-based and secular films you've seen?
How does Sunshine go from having a home and a job to living in her car? What does the movie demonstrate about the cycle of poverty?
How does this film compare to a standard movie musical?
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