You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Sunshine Boy

"The Sunshine Boy" is, for many minutes, a primer on autism.

With: Margret Dagmar Ericsdottir, Geraldine Dawson, Simon Baron-Cohen, Soma Mukhopadhyay, Temple Grandin. Narrator: Kate Winslet. (Icelandic, English dialogue)

A mystery replete with miracles, “The Sunshine Boy” is, for many minutes, a primer on autism — statistics, possible causes, the plight of families, the seemingly impenetrable wall that separates the autistic from the world. But the way that wall is breached will leave auds stunned and rethinking what has long been considered a disorder devoid of hope. Given that autism is now diagnosed in one of every 150 children, the pic’s target aud numbers in the tens of millions, though it will require a committed distributor to distinguish it from recent documentaries on the subject.

The first nonfiction film since the early ’80s by Iceland’s Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, “The Sunshine Boy” was the brainchild of producer Margret Dagmar Ericsdottir, whose son Keli has a severe case of autism. A beautiful boy, Keli is seemingly unreachable, lost in a snarl of crossed neurological wires. While autism can manifest itself in more benign fashion — Asperger syndrome being among its milder forms — Keli’s version renders him oblivious to what the world has to offer, including the considerable love of his family — or so it seems. Ericsdottir, frustrated by the hand-washing attitude of conventional medicine toward something it doesn’t understand, decides to go to the autism frontiers of the U.S. looking for some breakthrough she can’t find at home.

Narrated by Kate Winslet — speaking in first-person voice for Ericsdottir, which is a little confusing at first — “The Sunshine Boy” is an extraordinarily beautiful docu: Fridriksson frames everything as if it were a romantic feature, and despite the deluge of often dry fact, the pure aesthetics of the movie keep one watching. Often enough, those facts and people are fascinating, too, albeit in awful ways: One family, the Meulmans, has three autistic sons. That the parents manage to keep it together so tenuously on camera is astonishing, considering the unimaginable burden they’re shouldering.

Titled after Ericsdottir’s pet name for Keli, “The Sunshine Boy” enlists various leading authorities on autism, including Cambridge U.’s Simon Baron-Cohen; Geraldine Dawson, founder of the U. of Washington’s Center for Autism and now chief science officer for the group Autism Speaks; and Temple Grandin, a highly functioning autistic and professor of animal science at Colorado State U. and someone who says she wouldn’t lose her autism if she could. Most remarkable, however, is, Soma Mukhopadhyay, mother of an award-winning autistic writer, and the founder of the Halo center in Austin. Her Rapid Prompting Method of reaching the autistic — which is shown in real time, with multiple children, to amazing effect — cause the viewer to rethink how he or she regards the autistic. Fifty years ago, Keli would have been shunted off to an asylum. What “The Sunshine Boy” provides, along with hope, is an awed sense of what we, despite our best intentions, simply don’t know.

Tech credits are tops, especially the shooting by d.p. Jon Karl Helgason.

Popular on Variety

The Sunshine Boy


Production: A Frontier Filmworks presentation in association with Klikk Prods. (Sales: the Film Sales Co., New York.) Produced by Margret Dagmar Ericsdottir. Executive producer, Kristin Olafsdottir. Directed by Fridrik Thor Fridriksson.

Crew: Camera (color, DigiBeta), Jon Karl Helgason; editor, Thuridur Einarsdottir; music, Sigur Ros, Bjork; associate producer, John Purdie. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Real to Reel) Sept. 12, 2009. Running time: 102 MIN.

Cast: With: Margret Dagmar Ericsdottir, Geraldine Dawson, Simon Baron-Cohen, Soma Mukhopadhyay, Temple Grandin. Narrator: Kate Winslet. (Icelandic, English dialogue)

More Scene

  • Rami Malek, Robert Pattinson and John

    Robert Pattinson Praises Fans for Raising Funds for Go Campaign: ‘It’s So Sweet’

    Robert Pattinson is giving back, but he’s even more impressed that his friends and fans are joining him in the fight. “It’s amazing,” Pattinson told Variety on the black carpet outside Neuehouse in Hollywood at the Go Campaign’s annual gala. “And they’ve done it every year. It’s kind of — it’s so sweet and I [...]

  • Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese, Al PacinoKirk

    Martin Scorsese Saluted by Leonardo DiCaprio, Al Pacino at Santa Barbara Film Fest Gala

    Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Pacino saluted Martin Scorsese‘s dedication and risk-taking at his Santa Barbara International Film Festival tribute, while the filmmaker spoke about the importance of “individual artistic expression.” More than 300 people attended the black-tie gala on Thursday night in Scorsese’s honor at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara in Santa Barbara, where festival exec director [...]

  • DOLEMITE IS MY NAME!, 2019, DOL_Unit_06284.RAF

    'Dolemite Is My Name' Writer Larry Karaszewski Recalls 10-Year Journey to Make Rudy Ray Moore Biopic

    “Harriet” writer-director Kasi Lemmons was in a reflective mood at Tuesday night’s “Behind the Screen” event at the Formosa Cafe in West Hollywood, sponsored by the Writers Guild of America West. The biopic, starring Cynthia Erivo as slave-turned-abolitionist Harriet Tubman, has been receiving buzz since its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s Lemmons’ [...]

  • Taika Waititi and Roman Griffin Davis

    Holocaust Experts Debate 'Jojo Rabbit' at Museum of Tolerance Screening

    With its comedic, cartoonish portrayal of Nazis, Taika Waititi’s satirical Hitler youth tale “Jojo Rabbit” has polarized critics and audiences alike. And that division continued to be stirred at Tuesday night’s screening of the film at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, where Liebe Geft, director of the museum, moderated a heated panel discussion [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content