Review: ‘The Bob’s Burgers Movie,’ starring the voices of Eugene Mirman, John Roberts, Kristen Schaal, Dan Mintz, H. Jon Benjamin, Kevin Kline and Zach Galifianakis

May 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Linda Belcher (voiced by John Roberts), Louise Belcher (voiced by Kristen Schaal), Gene Belcher (voiced by Eugene Mirman), Tina Belcher (voiced by Dan Mintz) and Bob Belcher (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin) in “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” (Image courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“The Bob’s Burgers Movie”

Directed by Loren Bouchard and Bernard Derriman

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed beach city in a U.S. state that resembles New Jersey, the animated film “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: The working-class Belcher family, which owns a fast-food restaurant called Bob’s Burgers, becomes involved in a murder mystery in the midst of having financial problems over a bank loan.

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of fans of “The Bob’s Burgers” TV series, “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” will appeal primarily to people interested in zany animated films that have comedy, drama and musical numbers that can be enjoyed by people of various generations.

A scene from “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” (Image courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

Whenever there’s a movie based on a long-running TV series, one of the biggest mistakes that can happen is when the filmmakers make the movie confusing to viewers who’ve never seen the TV series. Fortunately, “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” (which is based on the animated TV series “Bob’s Burgers”) does not fall into that trap. In fact, the movie is a great example of how to please existing fans, as well as how to win over newcomers to a franchise.

“Bob’s Burgers” (which premiered in 2011 and is televised in the U.S. on Fox) tells the ongoing story of the Belcher clan, a family of five whose patriarch owns and operate a small fast-food restaurant called Bob’s Burgers in an unnamed beach city in an unnamed U.S. state. (The show has dropped hints over the years that the state is probably New Jersey.) “Bob’s Burgers” creator showrunner Loren Bouchard wrote the screenplay for “The Bob’s Burgers Movie,” which Bouchard co-directed with Bernard Derriman.

Here are the five people in the Belcher family:

  • Bob Belcher (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin), the pessimistic Bob’s Burgers owner, who’s always worrying that the restaurant is on the brink of failing.
  • Linda Belcher (voiced by John Roberts), Bob’s eternally optimistic wife, helps manage Bob’s Burgers. Linda and Bob are both 44 years old.
  • Tina Belcher (voiced by Dan Mintz), Bob and Linda’s “boy crazy” eldest child, who’s 13 years old. Tina has a crush on a fellow teenager named Jimmy Pesto Jr. (also voiced by Benjamin), who is the son of the man who owns Jimmy Pesto’s Pizza, the biggest competitor to Bob’s Burgers.
  • Gene Belcher (voiced by Eugene Mirman), Bob and Linda’s mild-mannered middle child, who is 11 years old. Gene, who is a keyboardist, is preoccupied with his fledgling pop/rock band The Itty Bitty Ditty Committee.
  • Louise Belcher (voiced by Kristen Schaal), Bob and Linda’s feisty youngest child, who is 9 years old. Louise is fond of wearing a pink rabbit-ears hat, and she dislikes being perceived as a weak and cowardly kid.

“The Bob’s Burgers Movie” keeps things simple by not having too many of the characters that are in the “Bob’s Burgers” TV series take up a lot of screen time. (The character of Jimmy Pesto Sr. is not in the movie, because voice actor Jay Johnston has reportedly been dropped from the “Bob’s Burgers” franchise.) “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” could be a stand-alone story, with people never having to see the TV series to understand the movie. It’s a wise choice in the movie’s narrative, considering that many people seeing the “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” haven’t see any episodes of the TV series.

The essential plot of “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” intertwines two major problems experienced by the Belcher family: a bank loan deadline and a murder mystery. In the beginning of the movie, Bob’s Burgers is struggling to stay in business. Bob and Linda are denied an extension on a bank loan, which needs to be paid back in seven days. The day that Bob and Linda get this bad news, the street where Bob’s Burgers is located has a water main break because of old and leaky pipes underground. The breaking of the water main causes a massive sinkhole, right in front of the Bob’s Burgers entrance.

Bob’s Burgers temporarily uses a side door as its entrance and puts a sign out front saying that the restaurant is still open. But the damage to the business is devastating, since Bob’s Burgers gets no customers the day after the sinkhole has appeared. Bob starts to panic over how he’s going to pay back the loan, while Linda firmly believes that everything will eventually work out for the best. Linda thinks that all they have to do is make enough sales to get the money to pay back the loan.

Meanwhile, Louise (who is a student at Wagstaff School) is being harassed by a student bully named Chloe Barbash (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), who makes fun of Louise, by calling her a “baby” for wearing a rabbit-ears hat. (The hat’s origin story is revealed in this movie.) This taunting then triggers Louise into attempting to prove to the other Wagstaff School students that Louise is no “baby” and that she’s braver than most children. Louise comes up with the idea to explore the sinkhole, and she enlists her siblings Gene and Tina to videorecord this expedition.

To the Belcher kids’ shock, Louise finds a skeleton of a man in the sinkhole. The police are called, and the sinkhole becomes a crime scene. A medical examination reveals that the man was murdered by being shot. The identity of the murdered man is revealed to be a local carnival worker named Danny D’Angelo, also known as Cotton Candy Dan. It’s also revealed that the murder took place six years ago. (The movie’s opening scene has a big hint that is connected to the murder.)

Calvin Fischoeder (voiced by Kevin Kline), the wealthy and pompous landlord for Bob’s Burgers, becomes the prime suspect in the murder, so he’s arrested. Also affected by this arrest are Calvin’s neurotic younger brother Felix Fischoeder (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) and Calvin’s talkative lawyer cousin Grover Fischoeder (voiced by David Wain), who is Calvin’s defense attorney. Bob fears that if Calvin is sent to prison for murder, Bob’s Burgers will lose its lease.

And so, there’s a “race against time” for the case to be solved, with the Belcher kids doing their own private investigation. A cranky cop named Sergeant Bosco (voiced by Gary Cole), who is a regular on the “Bob’s Burgers” TV series, is leading the police investigation. And, not surprisingly, he’s annoyed by anyone he thinks will be interfering in the case. Just like in the TV series, Sergeant Bosco can be a friend or a foe to the Belcher family in “The Bob’s Burgers Movie.”

Meanwhile, with the bank loan deadline approaching, Bob becoming increasingly desperate. And so, loyal Bob’s Burgers customer Teddy (voiced by Larry Murphy), who works as a contractor handyman and is Bob’s closest friend, comes up with the idea for Bob’s Burgers to set up a temporary food cart on the city’s beach boardwalk—even though Bob doesn’t have a permit to sell food on the boardwalk. Desperate times lead to desperate decisions, so they decide to take a chance and operate the food cart on the boardwalk anyway.

Teddy, who is a lonely and divorced bachelor, volunteers to be help operate the food cart by being the cook. Linda dresses up as a hamburger to entice customers. The movie has some amusing moments where Linda thinks that her selling skills are based on how sexy she thinks she looks in this ridiculous-looking burger costume. Bob predictably gets annoyed by Linda’s antics, and he becomes paranoid about getting busted for operating the food cart without a license.

“The Bob’s Burgers Movie” also has recurring comedic moments about each of the Belcher kids’ current obsessions. Tina has fantasies about asking Jimmy Jr. to be her boyfriend for the summer, so there are dreamlike romantic scenarios that play out in Tina’s imagination. Gene dreams of becoming a rock star, so there are musical numbers in the movie with The Itty Bitty Ditty Committee performing the music. Louise imagines herself as a popular kid with a “badass” reputation among her schoolmates, so there are scenes of Louise doing whatever she thinks it will take to have this courageous and heroic image.

“The Bob’s Burgers Movie” isn’t a mindless kiddie film, because it has plenty of jokes that adults will appreciate more than underage children will. These jokes have to do with social class and status issues that are presented in the story. Observant viewers will notice that all the grief that Louise goes through to change her image isn’t much different than all the trouble that adults go through to project a certain image, so that they can be considered “successful” by society.

The musical numbers in “The Bob’s Burger Movie” are very entertaining and amusing, particularly the performances of “Sunny Side Up Summer” and “Not That Evil.” Fortunately, this isn’t a movie where people break out into song every 10 minutes, because it would ruin the flow of the narrative. The mystery-solving part of the story gets a little convoluted and messy, but not too complicated.

“The Bob’s Burger Movie” continues the gender-swapping choices made in the “Bob’s Burgers” TV series casting, with men voicing some of the female characters, and women voicing some of the male characters. Benjamin (the voice of Bob) also voices the character of Ms. LaBonz, one of Louise’s teachers at Wagstaff School, while Roberts (the voice of Linda) is the also the voice of Jocelyn, one of Louise’s Wagstaff School classmates. As previously mentioned, Mintz is the voice of Tina.

There are also some celebrity cameos in gender-swapped roles. Jordan Peele continues as the voice of Fanny, Calvin’s much-younger singer girlfriend, who has a checkered past and a gold-digging agenda. Sarah Silverman and Laura Silverman are, respectively, the voices of Ollie and Andy, who are Jimmy Pesto Sr.’s twin sons.

In response to criticism that the “Bob’s Burgers” TV series cast white actors to voice African American characters, “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” has added some racial diversity to the cast. Nicole Byer (host of Netflix’s cooking competition “Nailed It!”) is the voice of Olsen Benner, an African American TV reporter, who has been voiced by Pamela Adlon in the “Bob’s Burger” TV series. Ashley Nicole Black (a writer for “Ted Lasso”) is now the voice of Harley, an African American girl who’s a classmate of Louise’s at Wagstaff School. Katie Crown was previously the voice of Harley.

Even with a lot of side characters, “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” remains focused on the Belcher family. The Belcher kids get a lot of screen time with the murder investigation, which is a more interesting and funnier part of the movie than the part of the movie about Bob, Linda and Teddy selling burgers on the boardwalk. And out of all the Belcher children, Louise is the one with the standout character arc. There’s not a bad actor in this entire cast.

“The Bob’s Burgers Movie” has wide appeal, but it’s not a movie that some people might enjoy if they’re looking for more dazzling visuals in an animated film. However, for viewers who care more about animated movies that have characters with memorable personalities, some snarky jokes, and an engaging story that’s easy to follow, then “The Bob Burgers Movie” delivers this type of entertainment in a lighthearted and playful way.

20th Century Studios will release “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” in U.S. cinemas on May 27, 2022.

Review: ‘Ron’s Gone Wrong,’ starring the voices of Jack Dylan Grazer, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Olivia Colman, Ron Delaney, Justice Smith and Kylie Cantrall

October 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ron (voiced by Zack Galifianakis) and Barney (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer) in “Ron’s Gone Wrong” (Image courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“Ron’s Gone Wrong”

Directed by Sarah Smith and Jean-Philippe Vine

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the ainmated film ‘”Ron’s Gone Wrong” features a predominantly white cast of characters cast (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A lonely adolescent boy gets a companion robot as a gift, and he finds out that the robot has flaws that can get him into trouble.

Culture Audience: “Ron’s Gone Wrong” is a family-friendly film that will appeal primarily to people who like stories about how contemporary and futuristic technology could affect humanity.

Ava (voiced by Ava Morse), Noah (voiced by Cullen McCarthy), Jayden (voiced by Thomas Burbusca), Rich (voiced by Ricardo Hurtado), Alex (voiced by Marcus Scribner) and Savannah (voiced by Kylie Cantrall) in “Ron’s Gone Wrong” (Image courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

Can an imperfect computer-operated robot be the perfect best friend for a lonely boy? That’s the question behind the animated comedy adventure film “Ron’s Gone Wrong,” which has some quirks and flaws (just like the robot in question) but is ultimately charming in how it presents issues about how much technology can or should replace a human being. “Ron’s Gone Wrong” gets a little off-track in the last third of the film by trying to cram in too many twists and turns to the story, but it eventually gets back on track to have a satisfying conclusion.

Directed by Sarah Smith and Jean-Philippe Vine (with co-direction by Octavio E. Rodriguez), “Ron’s Gone Wrong” treads on familiar territory in children’s oriented films where the protagonaist is a lonesome child who finds and befriends a “special companion.” The “special companion” is unusual enough that, at some point, the child has to keep the companion a secret from adults who might want to take the companion away from the child. The “special companion” could be a talking animal (“Ratatouille”), a space alien (“Lilo & Stitch”) or a computer-operated robot (“Ron’s Gone Wrong”).

“Ron’s Gone Wrong” might gets some comparisons to the Oscar-winning 2014 animated film “Big Hero 6.” However, that there aren’t many things that these two movies have in common except that they’re both animated films about an adolescent boy who has a computer-operated robot as a best friend. In “Big Hero 6,” the boy and the robot are crime-fighting superheroes. In “Ron’s Gone Wrong” the protagonist and his companion robot are supposed to be awkward misfits who have more misadventures than adventures.

The central human character in “Ron’s Gone Wrong” is an adolescent boy named Barney Pudowski (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer), who is a seventh grader at Nonsuch Middle School, which is an unnamed U.S. city. Barney doesn’t have any close friends or siblings. And he’s the only student who doesn’t have the world’s hottest technology device: a Bubble Bot, also known as a B-Bot.

A B-Bot is a talking robot that is shaped like a giant pill capsule and is about the size of a toddler child. Every single B-Bot has a computer algorithm that can detect from a person’s handprints what that person’s preferences and memories are, in order to make the B-Bot the perfect, custom-made friend to the person who owns the B-Bot. The B-Bots come in a box that has this label: “Best Friend Out of the Box.”

B-Bots have become such a common technology device, kids at school have a special location where the B-Bots are stored while the school’s classes are in session. The B-Bots are allowed to interact with the kids at school outside of the classroom, such as in hallways, in cafeterias, or during recess periods. Just like smartphones, B-Bots have become significant in the lifestyles of people who can afford to have this technology. Anyone who doesn’t have a B-Bot at Nonsuch Middle School is considered a social outsider and “behind the times.”

B-Bots were invented by a computer tech genius named Marc Widdell (voiced by Justice Smith), who is the CEO of the Bubble company that makes B-Bots. The beginning of “Ron’s Gone Wrong” shows Marc introducing B-Bots at a big event that’s similar to Apple Inc.’s product-reveal events. Marc’s goal to have the world populated with B-Bots is not motivated by greed but rather by an altruistic intention to rid the world of loneliness. B-Bots are programmed to not hurt people and other beings.

Marc has a second-in-command executive named Andrew (voiced by Rob Delaney), who’s in charge of the company’s sales and marketing. Andrew is selfish, dishonest and ruthlessly ambitious. He doesn’t really care if B-Bots are helping people or not. He just wants to sell as many B-Bots as possible, because he eventually wants to take over the company and replace Marc as CEO.

Meanwhile, at school. Barney is teased and bullied by other students because most of his toys are rocks. A compassionate teacher named Miss Thomas (voiced by Megan Maczko) hugs him in the schoolyard (much to Barney’s embarrassment) and tells some of the students to talk to Barney. It just makes things worse, because the students just taunt him some more about not having a B-Bot. They call Barney names like “rock boy.” Barney also feels different from most other students because he has asthma.

The chief bully is a brat named Rich (voiced by Ricardo Hurtado), who is merciless in trying to insult and humiliate Barney. Rich has two sidekicks named Alex (voiced by Marcus Scribner) and Jayden (voiced by Thomas Barbusca), who go along with whatever Rich does. Other students who end up interacting with Barney are Savannah (voiced by Kylie Cantrall), a self-centered gossip who’s obsessed with being a social media star; Noah (voiced by Cullen McCarthy), a nice guy who is kind to Barney; and Ava (voiced by Ava Morse), a brainy and empathetic acquaintance who is Barney’s secret crush.

Barney lives with his widower father Graham Pudowski (voiced by Ed Helms) and Graham’s Russian immigrant mother Donka Pudowski (voiced by Olivia Colman), who is a widow. Barney’s mother/Graham’s wife died when Barney was 2 years old. Graham owns a novelty toy and trinket company called Pudowski Novelty Exports, which is an online wholesaler. Graham works from home and does all the sales himself, which means that he works very long hours. He’s often seen on the phone trying to close deals with potential and existing clients.

Donka is old-fashioned and scatter-brained, but she adores her family. She likes to think that she’s still living on a farm in Russia instead of a city in the United States. How old-fashioned is Donda? She will bring live animals, like a chicken or a goat, with her wherever she goes.

It’s somewhat of a corny and outdated depiction of immigrants who come to America, by stereotyping immigrants as people stuck in the backwards ways of the “old country” that’s not as technologically advanced as the United States. And in other stereotype of immigrants who don’t have English as their first language, Donda speaks in broken English.

Barney likes to play with toy trains, but even that’s considered out-of-touch by his peers. He longs to have his own B-Bot. However, Barney’s loving but strict father doesn’t want Barney to have a B-Bot because he’s concerned that Barney will be like other kids who spend too much time being addicted to technology and devices, instead of having in-person human interactions and doing things like playing outdoors. Ironically, Graham has become such a workaholic who’s glued to his phone and his computer, he’s been neglecting Barney.

As for Barney’s grandmother Donda, she doesn’t trust new technology overall. Donda doesn’t mince words when she tells Barney what she thinks about B-Bots: “B-Bot is just a fad. And it costs a fortune!”

Early on in the movie, Barney turns 13 years old. His father and grandmother have a birthday party for Barney. The people who were invited to the party were some Barney’s fellow students, but none of the invited people goes to the party. Barney is also disappointed when he opens the birthday gift that he got from his father: It’s another rock toy.

Graham, who can see how miserable Barney is, feels guilty about not getting Barney the gift that Barney wanted. And so, Graham and Donda go to the nearest store that sells B-Bots to get a B-Bot as a belated birthday gift for Barney. But there’s a big problem: All B-Bots are sold-out and won’t be available for the next three months.

Just by coincidence, as Graham and Donda are leaving the store, they see some delivery truck workers in the back of the store. Graham overhears one of the workers talking about a defective B-Bot that Graham can see in the back of a truck. And the next thing you know, Barney gets a belated birthday girft. He opens up the box, and it’s the defective B-Bot, but Barney doesn’t know yet that the B-Bot is faulty. Graham has presented it as a new B-Bot.

It doesn’t take long for Barney to find out that the B-Bot has a lot of glitches. In one of many mistakes, the B-Bot (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) misidentifies Barney’s name and has programmed itself to think that Barney’s name is Absalom. One day, when Barney comes home, he finds out that the B-Bot has made his room a mess and even set a few things on fire. It’s the opposite of the helpful housecleaning duties that a B-Bot is supposed to be capable of doing.

Barney takes an instant dislike to this B-Bot and doesn’t want anything to do with it. However, the B-Bot is programmed to try to be the best friend possible to its owner. The B-Bot tags along with an annoyed Barney, who hasn’t bothered to give the B-Bot a name.

One day, school bully Rich corners Barney for some more insults and degradation at an outdoor skate park, where Rich has been showing off his skateboarding skills during a livestream for his social media. Alex and Jayden are there too. Rich thinks that harassing Barney during the livestream is hilarious.

Rich also makes fun of Barney for having a defective B-Bot. Rich hits the B-Bot, but he’s in for a shock when the B-Bot hits back. A brawl then ensues between Rich and the B-Bot. Rich’s cronies run away in fear, while Rich shouts, “Cut the livestream!”

But the damage has been done. People who saw the livestream now know that a B-Bot is capable of attacking humans. Barney later finds out that his B-Bot doesn’t have “safety settings” to prevent it from hurting people. And that’s why, to avoid a potential PR disaster and lawsuits, the Bubble company orders that the B-Bot be found, confiscated and destroyed. The police also get involved in the search.

However, Barney is impressed with how this B-Bot defended him like a friend. Barney now doesn’t want to give up his B-Bot. He tells the B-Bot, “I can fix you and teach you to be my friend.” It’s at this point that the B-Bot says his name is Ronbitscasco, but Barney calls the robot Ron, for short.

There’s a great deal of the movie that’s about Barney trying to hide Ron from people who want to take Ron away from Barney. Varous hijinks happen—some more predictable than others. Meanwhile, Ron causes a lot of mishaps along the way, which makes Barney get into even more trouble. Barney than does the most obvious thing that a kid would do who wants to hide.

“Ron’s Gone Wrong” might get some criticism for how the problems in this story are resolved. However, it’s easy to perhaps misinterpet “Ron’s Gone Wrong” as a movie that advocates for replacing human interaction and human emotions with the idea that a computer-operated robot can take care of all of a person’s needs. Instead, the message of the movie, which can be a bit muddled, is that there are certain technologies that aren’t going away anytime soon. We can either be in misguided denial and think that people will stop using this technology, or we choose to figure out ways how that technology can beneift people in a positive way.

The movie makes a point that technology, just like anything else, can be abused and used for the wrong reasons. Andrew is the obvious villain who is the epitome of this misuse. Barney knows that Ron should not be his only friend, but Ron teaches Barney to have the self-confidence to make human friends. And the movie doesn’t put all the blame on technology-obsessed kids, because there’s a part of the story that deals with how adults can unintentionally be neglectful of their children for reasons that have nothing to do with technology.

“Ron’s Gone Wrong” is a children’s oriented movie that slips some borderline adult jokes into the story, so that adult viewers can get some laughs. In one scene, Donda says that she once “mended my own hernia with a bread knife and vodka.” In other scene, there’s a recurring poop joke that becomes a plot device for something that happens to one of the students at Barney’s school. The joke might be offensive to some viewers, so consider yourself warned.

At times, “Ron’s Gone Wrong” goes a little bit too over-the-top with what these B-Bots can do. Without giving away any spoiler information, it’s enough to say that parts of this movie look inspired by the “Transformers” cartoon series. Fortunately, the movie doesn’t go off too much on this tangent. “Ron’s Gone Wrong” has some eye-catching visuals, and the cast members perform their roles well. It’s not in the upper echelon of top-quality animated films, but “Ron’s Gone Wrong” serves its purpose of being escapist entertainment that people of many generations can enjoy.

20th Century Studios released “Ron’s Gone Wrong” in U.S. cinemas on October 22, 2021.

Review: ‘The Sunlit Night,’ starring Jenny Slate

July 18, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jenny Slate in “The Sunlit Night” (Photo by Eirik Evjen/Quiver Distribution)

“The Sunlit Night”

Directed by David Wnendt

Culture Representation: Taking place in Norway and New York, the comedy/drama “The Sunlit Night” has an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A female struggling painter artist from New York City takes a job as an apprentice to a grouchy and famous male painter artist, who lives as a recluse in Norway.

Culture Audience: “The Sunlit Night” will appeal primarily to people who like independent films that have plenty of quirky characters but not much substance.

A scene from “The Sunlit Night,” with (in front row) Gillian Anderson (third from left), Alex Sharp (third from right), Zach Galifianakis (second from right) and Jenny Slate (far right). (Photo by Eirik Evjen/Quiver Distribution)

When it comes to live-action comedy/dramas or “dramedies” that Jenny Slate stars in, it’s time for her to move on from playing the type of “stuck in a rut” woman who’s still living with her parents or still trying to launch a career, long after most people have already figured out what they want to do with their lives. (See 2017’s “Landline” and 2014’s “Obvious Child,” which is still the best movie that Slate has starred in so far. )

The dreadfully bland comedy/drama “The Sunlit Night,” starring Slate (who is long past her 20s, even though she looks younger than her real age), is yet another independent comedic film where she plays someone who gets a rude awakening that she has to start living her life like a responsible adult. In “The Sunlit Night,” Slate (who is one of the film’s producers) plays the character of Frances “Fran” Cohen, a New York-based painter artist who’s struggling to make a living from her art. German director David Wnendt makes his English-language film debut with “The Sunlit Night.”

In the beginning of the movie, Frances has recently broken up with her boyfriend Robert (played by Dan Puck) whom she’s been comfortably living with in the Hamptons. It’s implied that Robert was taking care of all of Frances’ financial needs, because now that the relationship is over, she’s suddenly found herself broke and homeless.

Frances has to move back in with her parents—Levi (played by David Paymer) and Mirela (played by Jessica Hecht)—at their cramped New York City apartment. She doesn’t share the details with her family about what went wrong in the relationship with Robert (and it’s not mentioned in the movie at all), but Frances’ parents assume that Robert was the one who ended the relationship. That assumption annoys Frances, although she doesn’t correct them.

Frances isn’t just upset about her love life. Her career isn’t going so well either. The opening scene of the film shows three pretentious art critics evaluating one of Frances’ art pieces that’s hanging on a wall, and making it clear that they don’t think the piece is good enough. One of the critics describes Frances’ work as “pedestrian,” as she sits uncomfortably in the room, listening to them while they give their negative reviews.

Frances has also recently gotten rejected for an artist residency in Tokyo. “Maybe I’m not an artist,” Frances says in a voiceover. “Maybe I’m just the daughter of two other artists.”

Frances’ mother Mirela (who designs upholstery textiles for well-to-do clients) and father Levi (who’s a medical illustrator) both make their livings as artists, but they have opposite personalities. Mirela is nurturing and supportive, while Levi is quick-tempered and tactless. Frances’ younger sister Gabriella, nicknamed Gaby (played by Elise Kibler), also lives in the apartment.

One evening, while the family is having dinner together, Gabriella surprises them with the news that she’s gotten engaged. Frances is happy for her sister, but Levi and Mirela aren’t thrilled because they don’t like her fiancé Scott Glenny. (The movie doesn’t go into details over why the parents disapprove of this relationship.) Levi immediately ruins Gabrielle’s big news about her engagement by announcing that he and Mirela are separating and they’re selling the apartment.

Feeling like her life is falling apart (and also desperately needing a new place to live), Frances jumps at the chance to work for a famous but reclusive artist named Nils Auermann (played by Fridtjov Såheim) in the remote Arctic district of Lofoton in Nordland, Norway. It’s only a summer job, and Frances has been warned that Nils can be very demanding and difficult (he fired the previous person who had the job), but Frances takes the opportunity anyway to be Nils’ apprentice.

Nils is painting a yellow mural on a local Viking Museum’s abandoned barn. He’s entered the project into a national arts competition. And he needs someone to help him finish painting the barn. The apprentice who has the job is required to live on Nils’ property.

When Frances arrives at Nils’ place, she immediately sees why he has an unpleasant reputation. He’s a rude and very self-centered taskmaster. And he immediately tells Frances that they will have long work hours (from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.), and that she will only be allowed to work on her own art in her own free time.

Frances’ living arrangements are also less-than-ideal: She has to live in a small, messy trailer. A previous tenant has written this message on the trailer cupboards: “Welcome to Hell,” as a warning of what’s to come. Frances not only has to deal with culture shock, but she also has to adjust to Arctic Norway’s environment of the sun never really setting, even at night.

Frances covers and paints over the trailer windows in order to get some sleep. And she has some unexpected company with a young goat that keeps showing up in her trailer. Despite Nils being such a cranky and gruff boss, Frances feels a little bit of kinship with him, because art critics have used the same words to describe Nils’ art and Frances’ art: “lazy, cold, not working.”

In the nearby Viking Village, Frances visits the Viking Museum and meets an eccentric named Haldor (played by Zach Galifianakis, in yet another weirdo role), who’s the museum’s manager and who insists that people call him Chief. Haldor/Chief isn’t from Norway. He’s actually an American from Cincinnati, but he considers himself to be an expert on Norwegian culture and history—so much so, that he’s always dressed in a Viking outfit, and he stars in the museum’s short history videos that are shown in the museum’s visitor screening room. Frances is slightly amused by Haldor/Chief, which is more amused than most people watching this movie will be by this insufferable Viking wannabe character.

Nils has color-coded how the barn should be painted, while Frances says in a voiceover she’s the type of artist who prefers finger paint. Because he is very particular on how he wants the barn to be painted, Nils and Frances inevitably clash. When Nils loses his temper with Frances over how she painted part of the barn (too sloppily, in his opinion), he grabs her arm and yells, “The barn is like a cathedral to me!” Frances immediately defends herself and shouts back, “Don’t touch me ever!”

Frances storms off to get some time away from her aggressive boss. But defending herself from his physical harassment is a turning point in her relationship with Nils, because he now knows that she’s no pushover. Later, he makes a semi-apology to Frances by telling her: “You and I are complete opposites, Frances. I am not used to people … But we complement each other.”

One day, while driving with Nils in his car on a deserted road, Frances sees a solemn-looking man, who’s around her age, wearing a black suit and walking with a suitcase on the road. Frances asks Nils if they can offer the man a ride, but Nils says no.

Frances sees the mysterious suit-clad man again at a local diner. She begins talking to him and tells him that she’s sure that she’s seen him before in New York. And by the way she looks at him, it’s obvious that she’s very attracted to him and interested in getting to know him better. This sad-looking man acts very aloof with her, and he rebuffs her attempts at a friendly conversation.

Frances sees him again later at the Viking Museum. And this time, she finds out who he is and why he’s in Norway. His name is Yasha (played Alex Sharp), and it turns out he really is from New York. Yasha is in Norway because his Russian immigrant father, whom he worked with at his father’s bakery in New York, has died, and Yasha is fulfilling his father’s wish to have a traditional Viking funeral in Norway.

And where is Yasha’s mother? Her name is Olyana, and she stayed in Russia, and never immigrated to the United States, as Yasha and his father had hoped. Yasha is very estranged from his mother, and he hasn’t invited her to the funeral. But that doesn’t stop Olyana (played by Gillian Anderson) from showing up anyway.

The biggest problem with “The Sunlit Night” is that it’s a lot duller than it should be. Galifianakis usually plays goofballs who are supposed to be annoying, but his Haldor/Chief character in this movie has no moments that are truly funny. It’s almost as if he’s there as filler. Anderson does a Russian accent that isn’t very convincing, while the Yasha character is just a grieving shell of a man, so he doesn’t have much of a personality.

The relationship between Frances and Nils, which is supposed to be the center of the story, seems devoid of anything memorable, except for the scene where they have a physical confrontation. There are a few pretentious moments when Frances namechecks some famous fine-art pieces in comparisons to her current life situation, but only art buffs will really appreciate some of these semi-humorous references. And even the “romance” scenes in the movie fall flat.

Rebecca Dinerstein Knight adapted “The Sunlit Night” from her 2015 novel of the same title. The book is based on her own “fish out of water” experiences as a New Yorker living in a remote part of Norway. But what works in a book doesn’t always work in a screenplay, since the pace of “The Sunlit Night” moves as slowly as a glacier moving through the Arctic.

An example of what’s wrong with this movie is how it mishandles a possible friendship between Frances and a bored Coop Prix supermarket worker (played by Luise Nes), whom Frances randomly meets at the supermarket in the frozen-food section. (This supermarket worker says her name is Kay, but she is identified in the film credits only as “Fridge Girl.”) Frances asks this young woman if she would like to pose for a painted portrait for Frances. Fridge Girl says yes, and immediately walks out of her job that day to go with Frances, without telling her boss or co-workers.

The next thing you know, Fridge Girl is posing nude for Frances in Frances’ dumpy trailer. Who does that? The movie never bothers to answer that question, because there’s no insight given into Fridge Girl’s character and why she’s the type of person to just impulsively walk out of a job to go with a stranger to pose for a nude portrait in a dingy trailer in the middle of nowhere.

Although the movie shows that Fridge Girl has posed for multiple nude portrait sessions for Frances, there’s no real inkling of what kind of conversations they might have had outside of those portrait sessions. Viewers don’t get to see the development of a possible friendship between the supermarket worker and Frances. Instead, viewers see more of Fridge Girl’s naked breasts than her personality.

Another thing about the movie that’s a missed opportunity is how little of Norwegian culture it shows, except for over-the-top Viking stereotypes that are played for laughs. Frances doesn’t seem very curious about getting to know other local artists who might live in the area, or even traveling in her free time outside of the stifling atmosphere of working with Nils. (Going to a local diner and a local grocery store doesn’t count.)

Maybe Frances’ lack of interest in exploring more of Norway is an example of how shallow she is or maybe how lazy the screenwriting is in not making the book more interesting for the movie. Conveniently, Frances’ “love interest” just happens to be a fellow New Yorker who’s in Norway. If you were to believe what’s presented in this movie, Norwegian men just aren’t interesting enough for Frances.

And did Frances really mature emotionally from this experience? What happens when her summer apprenticeship with Nils ends? Those questions are answered in the movie, but the conclusion isn’t particularly insightful.

Frances has the type of arrested-development lifestyle that might be somewhat cute when you’re in your 20s. But it’s not cute when you’re way past that age. If people want to see a comedy/drama film about a struggling female artist who recently broke up with her boyfriend, moves back in with her parents in their New York City apartment, and has a younger sister whose life is going more smoothly than hers, then writer/director/actress Lena Dunham already made that a much-better movie with “Tiny Furniture.”

Quiver Distribution released “The Sunlit Night” on digital and VOD on July 17, 2020.

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