“Think of something that makes you both happy”
It’s intriguing to note how many buzzed about films depicting parents who don’t know how or simply can’t do the job were released on the festival circuit between 2010-2012. You don’t have to look far to see myriad examples of this concept right outside our doors as “babies are having babies” without the ability to stop being selfish so they can take on the responsibility. But while Sofia Coppola‘s Somewhere and So Yong Kim‘s For Ellen have at their core a character who used fame and fortune—or their allure—as a way to build walls and lose perspective, Bryan Wizemann‘s About Sunny takes a look at the other end of the spectrum. We like to think a desire to do well by your children is all that’s needed, but sometimes it’s not enough.
Angela (Lauren Ambrose) never had an opportunity to escape once her ex-husband left. She had to stay behind and do her best. This meant working at a call center, moonlighting as a janitor, and frequenting a local strip club to pick up guys in hopes of a little sympathy cash once they woke to find her daughter standing at the bedroom door. There’s no time or money to tutor eight-year old Sunny (Audrey P. Scott) how to read when excess wages go to taxis and town cars because her own beat-up ride won’t start. Too proud to take the bus or be looked down upon for needing help, Angela tries to do everything even if it means leaving Sunny at home all night sleeping. Life and love are hard but grasping at easy answers makes things harder.
So when her boss Ted (David Conrad) offers a chance to triple a two grand investment overnight we know it can only end bad or worse. Desperately trying to earn the initial amount means reaching out to her ex for owed child support, getting less sleep from working twenty hours a day, and growing increasingly impatient towards the girl she is supposedly doing everything for. A quick cash grab could be what they need to stop treading water, but changing their lifestyle could help even more. How much money would quitting smoking, using public transportation, and canceling cable save? How much healthier could they live if the ideal of being her daughter’s best friend didn’t often supersede the need to be her mother? Sometimes it’s just easier to buy pie for breakfast.
But as Angela’s existence unravels further, a new friendship with coworker Max (Dylan Baker) brings an almost unbelievable proposition. Treating the girls to gifts and pumping them for information while telling a tale of his sister’s (Penelope Ann Miller) unfortunate bid for an adoption can plant only one idea in our heads despite the characters’ obliviousness. Here is the first kind-hearted person to pay them any mind besides an upstairs neighbor Cheryl (Adina Porter) and her kids and yet he does so with ulterior motives. Yes, his aims are compassionate—albeit somewhat ruthless in tact—but the sheer bullheaded approach to putting Angela and his sister Louise in the same room makes you wonder about his involvement in other tragic circumstances that ultimately lead the single mother closer to an impossible decision.
Wizemann appears to revel in throwing us moral quandaries left and right as we infer upon his lead’s life and judge her. How many of her actions are to make life easier for herself and how many provide for her daughter? Should a mother condone underage drinking in her home and partake in illegal drugs recreationally while an eight-year old resides under her roof? Where does love weigh in against responsibility when both are mutually exclusive? To watch Angela explode on Sunny for forgetting to do things a girl her age should never have to do or for not being grateful for the fast food and knock-off brand sneakers she provides is hard when also seeing the two so enraptured by unbridled joy riding through a car wash. They are both kids who merely want to have fun.
And this is why About Sunny works when its plot grows darker and darker once its abyss of convenience threatens to usurp bigger questions about motherhood and family. While moments such as letting their dog Casey go free due to an inability to take care of him play way too heavy-handed when juxtaposed to a similar exchange with much greater impact, the performances given in such emotionally draining circumstances prove worth your time. Listening to movie parents swear and grow verbally violent with their children is nothing new and oftentimes comes off forced and clichéd. But through Ambrose’s troubled, defeated, and broken mother their exasperation is real and her apologetic whispers after sincere. It’s a role that can’t help transcend its otherwise overwrought vehicle with its honest portrayal of sacrifice.
The whole cast is great from Scott’s debut as the older than her years Sunny to the calculating Baker toeing the line between uncomfortable middleman and unfeeling broker of highly emotional goods. The situations presented do have a tendency to simply pile on more and more potential tragedy as patience frays and tempers flare, but the characters find a way to inject enough authenticity in their reactions to help us see past contrivance. We may never get answers to a few questions at first seeming crucial to where Angela’s fate takes her and the end may find itself a bit too fortuitous for suspension of disbelief considering how long it takes to unfold, but seeing Ambrose and Scott together in good times and bad do let the film’s shortcomings wash away into the background.
courtesy of aboutsunny.com