Thursday, May 02, 2013

CUFF ’13: When Sunny Gets Blue

Musicians are like athletes.  An injury can potentially end a brilliant career.  Like Evan Horne, the protagonist of Bill Moody’s jazz mysteries, Jonathan Clay is a pianist struggling with injured hands, who suddenly finds himself involved with the criminal element in Oded Naaman’s When Sunny Gets Blue (trailer here), which screens in New York as part of the 2013 Columbia University Film Festival, an annual showcase for Columbia MFA students’ thesis films and screenplays.

Clay is not a good patient.  Suffering from acute carpal tunnel syndrome, he is frustrated by the slow rehabilitation process.  In fact, he has given up on physical therapy. When he returns from a session of self-pitying and boozing, he is surprised to find a woman in his apartment.  She is there to warn him about the thugs who show up shortly thereafter. 

Yes, her name is Sunny, as in the title Jack Segal & Martin Fisher standard that seems to have great meaning for Clay.  It is a good one, recorded by the likes of Dexter Gordon, Sarah Vaughan, and Nat King Cole, but it is not exactly overplayed and fits the vibe of Naaman’s film quite well.  (The credits inspired by Blue Note Records graphic designer Reid Miles are also a nice touch.)

Indeed, Sunny has a hip sensibility that should please jazz fans.  In a strange way it manages to be both ambiguous and completely satisfying.  Naaman deftly establishes a distinctive mood that is too light-hearted to be called noir, but too dark to be considered anything else.  It certainly fits the jazz life, as does Jonathan Monro’s standout performance.  He gets a convincing case of the blues, yet remains sincere and grounded, even when doing some odd things.  As someone who knows a lot of musicians, his performance always feels right to me.

A great short film, the nineteen minute When Sunny Gets Blues is an Indiewire Project of the Week that actually panned out.  It should serve as quite a positive representative for Columbia as it gets festival play.  Highly recommended for jazz fans and film programmers, When Sunny Gets Blue screens this Saturday (5/4) as part of the Columbia Film Festival’s Program D at the Walter Reade Theater.