The Sunlit Night

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
The Sunlit Night Movie Poster Image
Enchanting find-yourself dramedy has sex, nudity, cursing.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 106 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Themes of personal growth/self-discovery, responsibility, finding your creative voice.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The screenplay is written by and reflective of the experience of a Jewish American woman who embarks on a personally challenging solo trip. She makes mistakes but also makes her boundaries clear and meets her goals -- and grows as a person. She meets a Russian American immigrant, who is portrayed positively.

Violence

Viking battle roleplay with axes and arrows. A male instructor handles a student roughly while demonstrating a technique; the female student instantly makes clear that's unacceptable. Characters mourn a deceased man and attend his funeral.

Sex

Sensual sex scene with bare breasts. Full-frontal and backside nudity of women in nonsexual context/moments. Characters deal with a breakup, a separation, a romantic interest, and a marriage.

Language

Strong language includes "hell," "crap," and several uses of "f--k."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink beer, wine, and hard liquor.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Jenny Slate produced and stars in this scenic dramedy based on Rebecca Dinerstein Knight's same-named novel. It centers on Frances (Slate), a Jewish American artist who escapes the frustrations of her crowded New York life by accepting an apprenticeship in remote Norway. The movie is labeled a romance, but that's not quite the right term. Various states of relationships are plot points -- breakups, separations, marriages -- and Frances takes an interest in a young man grieving his father's loss. But really, the focus is on Frances courageously discovering herself and her artistic style. Part of that artistry includes a female model who's shown fully naked in a nonsexual context. Slate is also seen naked from the side and behind, including during a sex scene. There are a few swear words ("hell," "f--k"), and characters drink wine and beer.

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What's the story?

In THE SUNLIT NIGHT, on the day that Frances (Jenny Slate) and her boyfriend break up, her sister announces her engagement, her parents announce their separation, and she finds out she didn't get accepted into the artist residency she'd been hoping for. Desperate to get away from her life and hone her artistry, Frances takes a backbreaking apprenticeship for an art world has-been on a remote Norwegian island.

Is it any good?

Slate charms in this film, which reinvents romance for the modern era. Rebecca Dinerstein Knight adapted the screenplay from her own novel, which was inspired by her own real-life experiences, and it picks up on the evolving trend that the real love in our life needs to be ourselves. Frances is stuck in a box made up of New York's tiny apartments, the pressure to find the right kind of Jewish boy to marry, and the expectations of her graduate art studies professors. When she moves into her father's art studio -- literally a room filled with art supplies and a blow-up mattress she has to share with her dad -- it's clear she needs to escape. To anywhere. So she takes the only remaining summer art residency, which is available because no one else wants to venture to its remote Norwegian location near the Arctic Circle. Frances heads out with a positive attitude, which she maintains despite the reality of her situation: doing someone else's paint by numbers on a barn for 12 hours a day. But those long hours and the incredible scenery allow her time to think, to ruminate, to evolve, and to find herself. There's a love interest along the way, but she's not crushing on him as much as intrigued by him, which Slate demonstrates with long, absorbing stares rather than quick stolen glances. There's so much to love about Frances: She's respectful and hardworking, but she also advocates for herself and stands up when authority steps out of line.

And then there's He Who Must Be Mentioned: Zach Galifinakis shines in a supporting turn as the Viking Next Door. Frances lives and works near a Viking museum, whose beaded-beard "Chief" happens to be a Cincinnati ex-pat. Galifinakis' character is eccentric, and we may laugh at him, but he's not a cartoon. He's happy: He's found his place in the world. And amid the gorgeousness that is Norway, Frances similarly finds herself and her creative perspective. The Sunlit Night offers plenty of subtleties to admire: the texture of a baby goat's hair that we can almost feel through the screen, the vibrant red and white that always cloaks Frances, and the inclusion of the tiny swipes of deprecation that many women experience daily. It's a quiet film, but the humor and relatability of Slate's character as she experiences the pangs of getting out from under the weight of her family should make it appealing to teens. As emerging adults linger longer at home, the film appreciates that sometimes we need to get away from the ones we love to love ourselves.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The Sunlit Night portrays the belittlements directed at Frances by her boss, her professors, and her parents. Why do you think they're included as part of her experience? 

  • Many films about self-discovery involve going on a physical journey. Why do you think this is? How does this one compare to similar films about finding yourself?

  • Do you think Frances is courageous to travel to "the top of the world" by herself? Would you think the same decision was brave if it involved a male character?

  • Is Frances a role model? Why or why not?

  • The movie's visuals are full of symbolism and metaphors. What did you notice, and what do you think it means?

Movie details

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