Supposedly based on writer/director Bryan Wizemann’s own real-life experiences, it’s difficult to not give the sustained note of misery that is About Sunny a complete pass out of utter pity.
It’s not that the movie itself is miserably made. Wizemann proves a skillful filmmaker—there is a great deal of subtle information (visual and aural) presented throughout in thoughtfully spare ways. (Big compliments to the film’s original music by Jeff Grace, who pairs a powerfully low-current score with the drama’s heaviest moments.)
About Sunny, which originally arrived on the festival circuit with the better-fitting title, Think of Me, is the relentlessly bleak story of a mother, Angela (Lauren Ambrose), who lives paycheck-to-paycheck in the rarely depicted lower-income residential fringe of Sin City. Angela clearly struggles to obey her better angels in order to better care for her daughter, Sunny (Audrey P. Scott, in a revelatory performance). Ambrose injects Angela with an audacious vulnerability, creating a character who’s far more sympathetic than she should be, given her consistently poor decision-making skills.
What follows is a nearly impossible, odds-defying number of misfortunes that happen to Angela and Sunny in a rather brief window of time: A well-meaning but badly played hookup ends as a one-night stand; her douchebag boss cons Angela into drumming up investment capital; her car breaks down; her deadbeat ex drags his feet on child support; her car breaks down again; her second job with a cleaning service places her overnight at the same cold-call sales center where she’s already working; the finally delivered back child support is stolen during Sunny’s birthday party; douchey boss fires Angela; car breaks down again… The list goes on, which is all the more impressive for a film with a running time of only 103 minutes. As a whole, the accumulated miseries of About Sunny strain viewer belief and tolerance.
Granted, it should take a whole lot of misery to make her character at all receptive to the increasingly unsubtle attempts of a coworker’s sister (Penelope Ann Miller) to pay her a very large sum to take Sunny back to Toronto and be the girl’s new mommy. (We won’t even get into the legality of that dubious proposition.)
Besides being capably anchored by Ambrose and Scott’s exceptional performances, Wizemann’s film does, fortunately, hit the right chord highlighting the bond between mother and daughter while never (perhaps due to the movie’s default tone) tracking as either saccharin or maudlin. About Sunny wants its viewers to grasp how difficult it is to be a single parent raising a kid—even one as great as Sunny is—and it makes the quiet moments shared by the two all the stronger for it.
Many viewers will lack the emotional fortitude (or cinematic masochism?) to withstand About Sunny. But for those who can, there is, at the center of its interminable sadness, a beautiful portrait of the sacrifice a mother will make for her child.
Director: Bryan Wizemann
Writers: Bryan Wizemann
Starring: Lauren Ambrose, Dylan Baker, Penelope Ann Miller
Release Date: Mar. 19, 2013 (VOD)