Writer/Director Laurie Collyer (Sherrybaby) has obviously studied the works of Haneke and the Dardennes and brings a similar gritty sensibility to this production. Some will also find the film reminiscent of Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine from 2010, but Collyer’s approach is more assured and natural, rendering superior results. Sunlight Jr. never relies on jiggly cameras, overlapping muttering or other tropes of cinema verite to sell viewers on the film’s authenticity. Collyer tells her downtrodden tale with appropriate vigor, but refreshingly doesn’t feel the need to beat up her audience in the process.
While the film’s overall rating barely nudges it above “worth seeing,” the aspects it does well it does very well, and its crafting of an impoverished human landscape gives a fascinating glimpse at the results of 30 years of economic trickle-down. It is one of the few recent films to look soberly at the plight of poor women facing unplanned pregnancy and the crucial safety net offered by those women’s health organizations red state politicians so despise. Sunlight Jr. neither celebrates nor demeans the working poor, but paints an involving, unsentimental portrait of an American Dream gone off the rails.