Feb 27, 2007

Movie Review: Ray of Shunsine

Cloudy Plot and Performances Make Ray of Sunshine Hard to See

World premieres... we don't get a lot of them in Kansas. So it's difficult to watch the opening of a film that is so obviously a labor of love and find so much wrong with it. Although it is an independent production, Ray of Sunshine is hardly the work of amateurs. With veteran actors Nancy Kwan, Tim Considine, and Ross Hagen, the film has some talent behind it. What it's missing, however, is clarity.

Rachel (Cheyenne Rushing) leaves her home to find her estranged father in Ray of Sunshine. (Sunshine Productions, 2007)
Directed by: Norbert Meisel
Written by: Norbert Meisel and Rae Rodgers
Starring: Cheyenne Rushing, Curt Lowens, Nancy Kwan , Tim Considine, and Ross Hagen
Rated Not Rated
Running time: 90 min.

Relative newcomer Cheyenne Rushing plays Rachael, a young teen who leaves her troubled home to search for her father, a wayward musician named Jack Doyle. On the run, she disguises herself as a boy and heads to Los Angeles.

Rachael tracks her father to the last place where he worked, a rundown jazz club. She befriends an elderly piano player known as The Count (Curt Lowens). With music as a bridge between them, Rachael and The Count begin a friendship that may give her a family she never knew existed.

The film is filled with familiar faces. Kwan plays the club's owner, Lily. Hagen plays her bartender and lover. Considine (who may be best remembered as half of the old television team "Spin and Marty") plays a judge who is searching for Rachael.

Despite the talented cast and a nice story about finding family in unlikely places, the film is uneven at best. It offers moments that are both wonderful and touching, only to be contrasted in the next scene by something that is unbelievable or uninteresting.

The writing is seriously flawed. The plot hinges on people not recognizing Rachael's disguise, but she can't escape looking feminine. Director Norbert Meisel is partly to blame. In a Q&A session after the screening, he said that her poor effort to hide her identity is part of the story. He noted that the other characters could easily see through her disguise, but that was never really conveyed on screen.

The story contains numerous sub-plots that defy explanation. In one, a judge (Considine) tries to find Rachael after her mother's murder. In another, Rachael finds a love interest in a young man trying to get into culinary school. A third, regarding the jazz club's monetary problems, seemed to be added only to showcase Kwan and Hagen's talents on stage. A good editor could recut this film, remove the extraneous subplots, and create a solid short film.

The acting in some of the sub-plots is so sub-par that they appear to be the work of unpaid extras rather than professional actors. Every scene set in Rachael's past is hard to watch because it appears to be directed by someone with no film experience.

As noted, Ray of Sunshine is an independent production and a labor of love. Partially financed by Kwan and Meisel, it appears destined for art houses and small independent theaters. Nevertheless, a good independent production should have higher standards.

The saving grace in Ray of Sunshine is the connection between The Count and Rachael, as well as the music that they share. Music, everything from jazz to classical, plays an important part in the film. An original piece dubbed "Rachael's Waltz" (composed by newcomer Geoff Stradling) is wonderful and helps gloss over the rougher moments of the film. (Reviewed by www.filmguru.net)

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