Review by James Lindorf
Directed by newcomer Jennifer Gelfer and Written by James Patrick Nelson, The Second Sun stars Eden Epstein as Joy and John Buffalo Mailer as Max. Inspired by a true story, the film follows the story of a chance encounter that leads to a romance between Max and Joy. On a cold night in post-World War II, New York City, Max is alone at his favorite bar when Joy arrives in search of a little warmth. As the night unfolds, they delve deeper into a conversation. She tells him about leaving her husband and moving to the city for a chance at a new life. He tells her a harrowing story from his time in Nazi-occupied Poland. In theaters and streaming on Amazon Prime August 16, 2019, two lost souls learn if a single night can change their lives forever.
This is a low budget affair about two damaged people, looking to make sense of the world in the only way they know how, that depends entirely on how you feel about Joy and Max. If you find their motivations lacking, or worse, you dislike them; the movie doesn’t stand a chance. Except for a few flashbacks, the film takes place mostly in the empty bar, with Max’s home as the second primary location. Limiting the number of sites and cast members who have to be dressed in period furnishings and costumes help make the most out of their budget.
James Patrick Nelson’s screenplay was adapted from his previous stage play. Coming from a different media that is secretly yearning to be a musical, and being inspired by actual events, may have been too much for the inexperienced Nelson. All of these influences and desires are fighting for dominance, leading to an uneven film. Moments that should have been trimmed during the transition from play to movie linger, an odd number of dancing interludes use up precious amounts of a 77-minute runtime. Instead of focusing on the more personal elements and making an intense period drama, the endless talk of destiny and love at first sight make The Second Sun too saccharine for all but the most ardent fans of the romance genre. Not committing to one type of story it leaves both elements incomplete and unsatisfying.
Ciaran Byrne as Joe, the bartender, is a bright spot and the most consistent character. John Buffalo Mailer and Eden Epstein give it their best. Unfortunately, they are not up to the task of overcoming the irregular tone and more cheese than your local Tex-Mex Restaurant. No actor would have been able to save the film from its script. More focus and polish on the writing and maybe some more money are the only things that could have changed The Second Sun from an underwhelming project into a launching pad for the cast and crew.