The indie drama Who Loves the Sun, which screened at AFI Dallas last weekend, is a good example of a low-key relationship movie, with just five characters and a single large setting -- an island where the family of characters has its summer home. The Canadian island setting is so lush and varied that you forget at times that this is a low-budget film limited to one location.
Will (Lukas Haas) returns to the Bloom family home after being away -- in fact, it turns out that he simply vanished five years ago and Mary and Arthur Bloom (Wendy Crewson and R.H. Thomson) don't know why. They persuade their son Daniel (Adam Scott), a successful NYC magazine editor who was formerly Will's childhood friend, to come for a visit, but the guys just bicker and yell like brothers gone sour. Then Will's wife Maggie (Molly Parker) turns up and we learn that before Will disappeared after catching Maggie and Daniel in flagrante. Now the trio needs to reconcile with one another, including figuring out which guy will end up with Maggie (if any). Mary and Arthur are inevitably drawn into the situation as well.
It's a story we've seen before in other films: the two male friends and the woman who unites and/or divides them, the best example being Jules and Jim. Who Loves the Sun adds some plot twists near the end that strained my suspension of belief. On the other hand, the plot twists added a sense of symmetry and also some insight into Daniel's parents' relationship. The dialogue is a little stilted at times, except for the interchanges between Will and Daniel, which are perfect. Although I sometimes feel that too many indie-film characters are novelists and writers, I did like the scene in which Daniel described the book he was working on, which included a heroine who was a "fiery half-breed amputee."
The appeal of Who Loves the Sun rests in its strong performances from the cast of five. Haas and Scott work well together -- well, it's more accurate to say that they argue well together, in a way that makes us believe the characters grew up almost like brothers. Scott's cocky attitude reminded me favorably of a young Tom Cruise back in the Top Gun days, but he also manages depth of feeling. Haas has come a long way since he played the title child in Witness; as Will, he charms everyone with those expressive puppy-dog eyes. Parker manages to look ordinary yet alluring; she seems almost plain at first, but her character has an indefinable inner appeal. She elevates the role beyond the standard "magical female" who changes the lives of all the men around her.
Who Loves the Sun contains some lovely moments: my favorite is the ping-pong scene, in which Will and Maggie play ping-pong throughout the entire conversation with Daniel, and neither one misses the ball the entire scene. It's a nice touch. I also liked the way in which the film gave weight and space to Daniel's parents, and enough dimension to make them people and not plot devices or background characters. It's the second feature from writer-director Matt Bissonnette; I haven't seen his 2002 film, Looking for Leonard, although it premiered at SXSW that year. Who Loves the Sun will be distributed next month in Canada through Christal Films, which is part of Lionsgate, but has no U.S. distributor as of yet. I hope more people will have the opportunity to see this simple but beautifully acted ensemble piece.