A sign advertises one of the author's "Sunlamp Movies" — "Clueless." (Unedited image, used under Creative Commons license.)

Do you have any Sunlamp Movies? You know, the kind of film you don’t really have to watch at this point and one you kind of have memorized, but which gives you solace and makes you feel cheerful. Kind of like a sunlamp. A movie you just keep on for company, as a sort of light source while you do other things like read or clean or do homework.

For me, I have always relied on a handful of old standbys for my Sunlamp Movies, I watch them all over and over and over and really never watch anything else. I’m kind of surprised at my selection. I don’t see a theme, other than that they are generally cheerful and the characters are complex and likable: “Clueless.” “Bull Durham.” “The Big Lebowski.” “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” “The Empire Strikes Back.”

I recently discovered a new Sunlamp Movie. I ordered “Under the Tuscan Sun” from Netflix and astonished myself by watching it three times through in succession. I had seen it once before — back when I was freshly divorced and it was relevant to my current situation. But I liked the idea of a movie about Tuscany, so I decided to watch it again. I found myself thrilled with the scenes full of sunshine, families, cheerful music and yummy food. Like a moving sunlamp. Maybe I can just keep it on autoplay.

Then there is the anti-Sunlamp Movie. Like “The Hateful Eight.” No. No, no, no. More like a blizzard machine, which is not even a clever metaphor if you’ve seen the movie. And — don’t watch it if you’re sensitive in the least. No, instead watch “Sisters,” which I haven’t seen, but I’m sure is more emotionally stabilizing.

I think we can learn a lot about people by learning what their go-to movies are. Or if they even have them. My love, Paul, doesn’t watch movies as much as sports and live concerts. So his Sunlamp is a rousing football game or a lively Phish or Bob Dylan concert. This makes sense, considering he likes to read and often combines watching or listening with reading.

My kids go through different phases, though the longest-running one for Noah has definitely been “Mulan.” He loves to act out the singing/fighting combo; I’m sure he’d be pretty disappointed to realize soldiers don’t really sing while in combat. I hope he never realizes this. Natalie loves the movie “Clueless,” probably for the same reasons as me — cheerful, fun music, great clothes, kind protagonists. I can’t wait until she reads Jane Austen’s “Emma” and realizes it’s basically the same story.

Though I don’t watch movies or TV very often, I guess I like to watch something I can count on, something that won’t throw any surprises at me.

If you have any cheerful Sunlamp suggestions, please send them my way.

Sara Van Donge is a teacher, writer and mom. Her first book, “I Love Love Walla Walla,” is available at local bookstores and at She can be reached at

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