You’d have to be desperate to accept a job in Norway’s Arctic Circle painting a barn alongside a gruff, acerbic artist during the months when the sun never sets. But desperate she is; Frances (Jenny Slate) is technically homeless after her own breakup, and her parents’, which dissolves the family home. She’s an artist, but not the kind who’s been first choice for any apprenticeship back home. Hence the sunlight nights.
She spends her days painting a barn yellow under the direction of cantankerous Nils (Fridtjov Såheim), her evenings making friends with goats and brown cheese, and her nights not sleeping as the sun’s rays continuously penetrate the windows of her camper. She meets Haldor (Zach Galifianakis) an American who plays a Viking Chief in a nearby “authentic,” “historic” Viking village settlement meant to attract tourists, though there are few, and Yasha (Alex Sharp), who has traveled here to give his recently deceased father a proper Viking funeral.
There’s nothing like self-exile to establish a sense of grief and apathy. I imagine Martin Ahlgren had a cinematographer’s wet dream up there with those incredible, sparkling landscapes. Jenny Slate is her usual effervescent self. But though the film is often charming, it doesn’t really feel complete. Frances often refers to her time in Norway as “detention,” a punishment for not being successful. With time it becomes the site of her awakening, her renaissance as an artist – but it’s unclear to both the audience and to the film itself whether Frances has undergone a permanent transformation. The film lacks commitment, it all feels rather passive. I found things to admire but was left feeling vaguely unsatisfied.