Writer and Director: Mike Melo
A film about self-isolation may be a little pat right now but Mike Melo’s 2017 movie Sunny Side Up receives a digital release at the most appropriate time. A small budget 85-minute piece focused on male mental health, anxiety and the feeling of being overwhelmed is extremely timely and while protagonist Gregory knows it’s all in his head, that is the problem.
Given a month off from his job as a funeral director due to an increasingly nervy performance, Gregory is exhausted and inhibited by the constant narrative of negative opinions he chides himself with that plague every moment of his day. No longer able to go outside, the days slump past playing video games and eating food straight from the can until persistent neighbour Emma decides to be Gregory’s friend whether he likes it or not.
Director Mike Melo utilises an interesting technique in the construction of his film; the problematic inner voices that challenge the balance of the lead character. Like devils on his shoulder, the voiceover style is an insistent example of Gregory’s paranoia and self-destructive tendencies, constantly goading and upbraiding him which gives the film its shape as he tries to conquer those doubts.
After a brief preamble at the office, much of Sunny Side Up is confined to Gregory’s flat, with large portions of the film focusing on his loneliness and determined isolation. To keep the audience’s interest, there are changes of tone and purpose across the story, using a montage effect as several days go by quickly when Gregory falls into routines of gaming and laziness, while the arrival of Emma marks a transition to a different pace of life.
Though low budget, there are also fantasy sequences in which Gregory imagines he is smarter, braver and more charismatic than he really is and which are filmed in a heightened style by Melo with lighting effects and alternative angles to distinguish these moments from the quieter reality. Hunter Davis embraces the everyman qualities of his character, capturing well the ordinariness of his daily routine while locating both frustration and comfort in those moments of repetition. Samantha Creed is a disruptive presence as Emma and while perhaps too easy-going, the ways in which her character brings energy and chaos to Gregory’s staid life adds a different dynamic to the film
The concept runs out of steam towards the end as it builds to a slightly romantic and unlikely positive resolution of sorts in which the protagonist is the passive recipient of the persistent attentions of the pretty neighbour prepared to put up with Gregory’s ham-fisted and sometimes unfriendly approach. The touch of male fantasy aside and the occasionally grating effect of Gregory’s incessant negativity, Sunny Side Up gives an immersive sense of being in the character’s head and – with prescient relevance to our current levels of interaction – hoping he can navigate his way back from blissful isolation to a more balanced engagement with the world.
Released on 4 December 2020