Hard Sun is a drama written and directed in by Canyon Prince and the first feature film production for Two Guys and a Film, Inc. Although the film probably won’t make it to big commercial success, it nonetheless was nominated for Best Picture at the Carmel International Film Festival in the United States. That is also where its lead actress Robyn Buck won the award for Best Performance playing Ruth and John Bain was nominated for Best Supporting Performance for playing her younger brother Riley, who has Fragile X syndrome.
Multiple story plots seem to intertwine in Hard Sun, but it eventually all results in the one confronting notion that there is only room for one in life, and that is Ruth in this case. In short, the film depicts the life of this young woman (Robyn Buck), who becomes the primary guardian of her brother Riley (John Bain) after her parents’ death. Also, her grandfather (Myron Natwick) lives with them. But at the same time, she attempts to keep her life in balance by combining these responsibilities with a job as a waitress and her own growing romance with the caring Josh (Ben Begley).
The title of the film may refer to the sunny weather of the southern state where the film is shot. Sometimes you can almost see and even feel the simmering heat radiating from your television screen. But it might also point at the hard time Ruth and Riley have underneath this sun and the apparently not-so-beautiful and peaceful lives they have together. Ruth struggles with what she wants to achieve in life and what she is actually capable of while taking full responsibility of her brother. She gets confronted with some strong inner struggles. Their grandfather, for example, tries to push her to get Riley into a care centre, and at her job she constantly gets confronted by her alcoholic ex-boyfriend Randy (William Stamey), who becomes manic and physically abusive after a couple of drinks.
As a viewer, you sympathize with Ruth and feel the deepest respect for how she copes with her sorrows and ‘burdens’. The sometimes blurred and faded visuals as well as the tactical use of silence and soundtrack add up to the power of the message Prince wants to convey. Although the focus of the film lies on Ruth, he makes the audience encounter Riley’s sensory experiences.
The performances in Hard Sun are not all screen worthy, unfortunately. The lead actors Robyn Buck and John Bain definitely stand out, but their talent gets counterbalanced by the unrealistic, and almost overacted performances by some of the teenage extras and the rather weak attempt of William Stamey to play the role of a ‘sensitive’ alcoholic.
When it comes to drama, Hard Sun is full of it, and at some times, unfortunately, it seems that the film becomes a big pile of sorrow, instead of carrying some notions of optimism or moral lesson. And when you think things couldn’t get more worse, they actually do.
Also regarding Hard Sun’s sense of reality and its approach of the controversial medical condition Riley suffers from, the viewer might still have some questions. Nowhere in the film is the name of Riley’s condition mentioned. Once in a while he is referred to as ‘retarded’, but when people don’t know anything about the Fragile X syndrome, you would rather say that he has a very severe form of autism.
After doing some research on the film and the Fragile X syndrome, I do have to confess that actor John Bain hits the sensitive spot with his performance, since he does not suffer from the condition himself. Fragile X syndrome – or FXS – is a genetic condition that causes intellectual and behavioural disabilities, which go along with various physical characteristics such as large ears, flat feet, hyper-flexible joints and ear infections (which might explain why Riley wears headphones all the time). Behavioural characteristics could include social anxiety and poor eye contact, which is also witnessed with Riley in the film. Nonetheless, I consider FXS a rather unknown medical condition that truly deserves some more public attention. In that sense, Hard Sun sets the example.
Check the trailer on YouTube.