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Review: 80 minutes feel like forever in 'The Sunlit Night'

Jenny Slate stars in quirky comedy that struggles to illuminate its path

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

An aspiring New York artist goes to Northern Norway to find herself in "The Sunlit Night," a middling comedy that could have used a similar journey to discover its purpose. 

Director David Wnendt has a lot of interesting elements to play with: A game Jenny Slate in full twee mode, a ripe-for-mocking art-world backdrop, Zach Galifianakis and Gillian Anderson in supporting roles and an exotic, gorgeous Norwegian setting.

Jenny Slate in "The Sunlit Night."

But like a painter busy contemplating his next stroke, Wnendt doesn't know what to do with any of them, and finishes his canvas before he decides what it was he was trying to say, if anything at all. 

Slate plays Frances, a Brooklynite finding her way in the art world. After a bad breakup, the sudden engagement of her sister and the split of her parents (David Paymer and Jessica Hecht), she takes an apprenticeship working for a cantankerous artist in Lofoten, Norway. 

Her job is to help him paint a barn entirely in shades of yellow. In her spare time, she paints a subject she meets dwelling in the refrigerated section of her local grocery store, and she runs into Yasha (Alex Sharp), an acquaintance she knows from Brooklyn, who's preparing to give his father a viking funeral overseen by a local actor (Galifianakis). 

Anderson shows up for a few scenes as Yasha's mother, but Wnendt wastes her, as he does Galifianakis and most of his tale. And the message (experiences are... good?) is lost among the quirks of the storytelling, which don't amount to much more than self-conscious ticks. 

Slate holds her own and shows glimpses at the story of artistic and personal awakening that "The Sunlit Night" could have been. But mostly it's trapped in the dark. 

'The Sunlit Night'

GRADE: C-

Not rated: Nudity, sexuality, language

Running time: 81 minutes

On VOD

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama