About Sunny (2011)
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I don't need to go into a lot of details, except to say that - again - this is a sombre and very sad movie. For most of its run time it doesn't really seem to be going anywhere, other than documenting Angela's struggles, but in the end Angela is faced with a gut-wrenching ethical dilemma. Without saying what it is, I'd say that as a viewer you're torn at the end. I think she made the right choice, but what does the future hold for her and Sunny? How will it get any better? Or are these two just on a one way trip to nowhere.
But - sadness aside - this is a good movie. Ambrose's performance is powerful and she draws you into Angela's life. You feel sorry for her. Perhaps none of this desperation is her fault, and you know that she wants to be a good mother to Sunny. Even when she lashes out, you know that it's out of frustration, and not because of any lack of love for her daughter.
With an interesting lead character, and a good performance form Lauren Ambrose in the role, this is definitely worth watching. It's just not a movie you'd want to watch on a day when you need a pick-me-up! (7/10)
Some people may find it easy to judge this woman, when she starts to breakdown. Her character does some things that may seem unsympathetic but strongly comes through as a real person. She is on her own, with no one to help her and does love her child.
The little girl's acting is the best I have ever seen for a child actor. She doesn't go over the top with coaching and doesn't even seem like she is acting.
A slice of life realistic story about a young mother and her daughter living on the edge of subsistence in Nevada. Lauren Ambrose (who was Claire in "Six Feet Under") is terrific, not overplaying a slightly hardened but still sympathetic character. The story is mostly about how things go a little bit wrong, not through stupidity (as in some movies like this where the leading female makes huge mistakes) but through some smaller misjudgments.
The daughter is terrific, too, and so we see a tension and tolerance in her relationship to her mom, who clearly loves her but is always a bit short on patience. The one real twist, which is a bit forced into the plot, is a relative of a co-worker who has some designs on the girl. This, too, is played with some subtlety, though the idea is just unlikely and sudden enough to force you to go along with it. It's not inevitable.
Even so this other plot is a small part of what really happens, with the growing feelings you have for the main two people. It's clearly a low budget indie film, and is produced by Ambrose, so you can see some smart attempts at moving her career forward. And she pulls it off with a heart wrenching, cinema-verite story that is maybe just a hair to close to the truth for many people to make it comfortable. How easy it is to watch more terrible tragedies (from "Goodfellas" to "Pulp Fiction") and how hard to see what might be true (here and in "Julia" which makes for a weird, imperfect parallel).
Wizemann's basic strategy is to catalog the misdeeds of incompetent parent Angela, as she aimlessly attempts to stay afloat in present day Las Vegas with her daughter. Angela is sort of like a water downed version of Casey Anthony, a child-like narcissist who inflicts emotional rather than physical damage on her daughter, who suffers from learning disabilities.
In addition to the slow-moving plot, much of the film's verisimilitude is dependent on whether one believes in the plausibility of the central character. Angela is so much in her own world, that she doesn't recognize that she has problems. Certainly when it comes to Sunny, she's in big time denial regarding the fact that her daughter is unable to read. Her defensiveness on that point is believable, but I still had a difficult time believing that such a character would not stoop to pursuing grander illegal pursuits or in contrast, seek help from others, to support herself.
For example, at the beginning, Angela picks up a man at a strip joint and goes home and has sex with him. The scene is obviously designed to introduce us to the idea that Angela's actions are thoroughly narcissistic, since Sunny walks in on them afterward, exposing her to all the unseemliness. What's odd is that Angela is not a prostitute and merely asks the man for a $100 to help her out. This is the only time we see Angela having sex or having any dealings with men on a romantic or sexual level. It's odd that she never resorts to prostitution since she is so desperate for money. On the other hand, perhaps prostitution is one step below her moral code. You would think by trying to find a boyfriend, that would be a good strategy for Angela to lift herself out of her isolation. But that strategy never seems to occur to her.
When her boss at the telemarketing firm asks Angela to come in with him on a dubious investment scheme, she doesn't hesitate to have her ex-husband wire her $2,000 from her child support funds, which she promptly loses after some neighbors come over for Sunny's birthday party, and one of them presumably makes off with the money. Again, is she so obtuse that she would so easily get involved in such a scheme? Most people wouldn't—even those down on their luck would be a little bit skeptical; but then again, there are gullible people falling for scams all of the time.
While prostitution is out, Angela contemplates insurance fraud, by asking a young neighbor to dump her car, so she can file a bogus claim. Although she changes her mind, Angela goes through with finding a second job as a cleaning woman. The problem is that she ends up working in the same building as her first job and when her boss from the first job notices her cleaning inside the company offices, early in the morning, he (like the rest of us) find that awfully strange--and promptly sends her packing.
Perhaps the most alienating action we can attribute to Angela (in terms of alienating us as an audience), is her decision to drive out to a deserted area with Sunny and put the family dog out on the streets. From this point on, it's hard to have much sympathy for Angela, as we can see the devastating effect her decision has on Sunny.
The film's denouement mirrors Angela's decision to give up her dog. This time, however, it involves Sunny. Angela ends up getting involved with a co-worker from the telemarketing firm who has a side business involving illegal adoptions. He tells gullible Angela that his "sister" (Louise) is just down from Canada and will pay her $20,000 to take little Sunny off her hands. In perhaps the best scene in the film, Louise (after having met and bonded with Sunny a few times) calls on Angela at a motel and makes a bid to adopt her.
**SUPER SPOILERS AHEAD** Angela decides to give Sunny up but at the last minute, on a lonely stretch of highway, changes her mind. In one respect, we feel relieved, since it's a horrible thing for a mother to give up her child in such a way. But we feel equally horrible, since we know Sunny will be doomed to endure Angela's continual bad parenting for the unforeseeable future.
My ultimate question regarding 'Think of Me' is, "what is the point"? Angela scores few points as a sympathetic character so we can care little about her. Perhaps Wizemann's strategy is to shock—proffering a portrait of a young woman as empty vessel. Can it be that a woman whose soul is virtually blank, can do as much damage as the parent who's guilty of physically abusing their child?
'Think of Me' often proceeds slowly in a cinema-verité style. Lauren Ambrose does well in conveying Angela's selfishness but I kept asking what are the protagonist's motivations. Perhaps the point is that there are no motivations—she acts that way simply because that's the way she is. The protagonist feels like an anomaly precisely because she has no goals like most normal people do. Can anybody be so naïve, gullible, narcissistic and nasty at the same time? Perhaps Mr. Wizemann will argue that there are people out there like Angela. Actually, I'm not so sure. But even if there are, I'm not so sure why I should really care.
The movie successfully builds up the pressure with each small unpleasant incident, and in so doing, slowly incorporates the viewer into the depressive world that it depicts. That accomplishment renders About Sunny as one of these dark movies whose influence does not wear off shortly after the ending.