March 24, 2009
Review - " Sunshine Cleaning " - (in Theaters) By Roland Hansen
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Oddly whimsical for a dark foray into the humorous side of crime-scene clean-up, Sunshine Cleaning amusingly examines
the lives of two sisters who attempt to mend the hurt in their personal lives while mopping up the dismal outcomes of others’
failed resolutions. Contrasting the sisters’ troubles and reconciliation over their mother’s tragic death with their desire to
find a connection within the “clients” of their peculiar profession, the film succeeds in presenting an engagingly naturalistic
drama primarily thanks to some enchanting acting from Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, and the always scene-stealing Alan
Arkin channeling his performance from another “Sunshine.”
Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) finds herself a single mother attempting to support her son Oscar (Jason Spevack) and her
unreliable sister Norah (Emily Blunt) while working a mundane job as a maid. Once the head cheerleader in school with
plenty of prospects, Rose now has little to show for her years, and while she still sees the former lead football player, it is
little more than a despondent affair. When Oscar is expelled from public school, Rose takes a job as a bio-hazard crime-
scene cleaner to help pay for a private education, and brings Norah on to help in her steadily growing business. As the
sisters work to clean up the messes left behind by the chaotic lives of others, they must learn to reconcile their own
differences and overcome a troubled past if they hope to prosper in their newfound venture.
Sunshine Cleaning is a deceptively simple slice-of-dysfunctional-life comedy that follows a pattern reminiscent of Five Easy
Pieces mixed with Little Miss Sunshine. The characters themselves embody various stereotypes of maladjusted individuals,
each graced with enough redeeming qualities that they’re relatable instead of contemptible – which is often the opposite in
painfully dark comedies. Occasionally the film delves into disturbing
complications that seem oddly superfluous, but adds depth to the
subplots - reflecting the messiness of life, in the anatomy of a
metaphorical crime scene waiting to be cleaned up. Once again
Amy Adams’ performance is teary-eyed and sensational,
demonstrating her maturity, acting chops and surprising range of
emotions that don’t seem initially possible with her pleasantly
youthful face. Supporting roles by Emily Blunt and Alan Arkin are
also noteworthy; Norah creates the missing piece to Rose’s
overwhelming feelings of responsibility, and their father steals the
show with alternating comic relief and desperation for making ends
meet. Their performances are genuine and affecting and bring light
to a story that is realistically melancholy but unquestionably
At first, it might seem like "Sunshine Cleaning" is attempting to re-create the magic (and success) of independent
blockbuster "Little Miss Sunshine." It's understandable since this latest release hits many of the same notes: a
dysfunctional family of likable losers, an oddball storyline and the always funny pairing of a quirky kid with Alan Arkin.
Despite these similarities, "Sunshine Cleaning" has every right to proudly stand on its own. The years since she was the
beautiful high school cheerleader dating the football captain have been hard on Rose, a single mom working for a maid
service and barely hanging on with sub-standard help from her loser sister Norah and her head-in-the-clouds dad. Her
ongoing affair with now-married high school boyfriend Mac (indie staple Steve Zahn) is yet another dead-end.
But when her son is kicked out of elementary school for his ongoing behavior problems (which seem to quietly disappear
for the remainder of the film), Rose is desperate to find the tuition for a better school. Mac, a police detective, suggests
crime-scene clean up as lucrative line of work. Rose enlists her sister and off they go, cleaning up the often-stinking
remnants of the dead.
Directed by: Christine Jeffs
Starring: Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Steve Zahn, Clifton Collins Jr,
I see a lot of movies and I mean A LOT! I average about one new movie a
day - and that's just first time viewing. That doesn't include the countless
number of films I watch either multiple times at the theater or over and over on
DVD. In going to the theater so much I manage to witness almost every
preview for every film being released. Let's face it. That advertising works.
Like many people, I decide which films I will see in the theater and which I will
wait for DVD release (or skip all together) by watching the coming attractions.
I find it exceptionally irritating to get all excited about an upcoming film only to
miss it on the big screen because it never gets wide release. I don't know who
makes the decision which movies get shown everywhere and which are
relegated to the small number of "arthouse" cinemas. It seems to me with the
star power of Amy Adams & Emily Blunt, not to mention Alan Arkin, in
Sunshine cleaning the studio and movie theater chains could have racked up
at least some modest profits from "Sunshine Cleaning". This is one that was
advertised at every chain cineplex but only ended up at a very few specialty
venues. As it was I was forced to drive nearly 50 miles out of my way to catch
this delightful little flick.
With the economy in collapse, this tale of a down-on-their luck family barely hanging on
feels timelier than it was probably intended to be. The film takes us around the seedy
sides of Albuquerque, usually in a clunker of a car. But even with the consistently bleak
visual treatment, there is a warmth to these to people, to this story, that keeps you
feeling hopeful - for them and for the times we find ourselves living in.
Adams and Blunt both deliver terrific performances, though at first it is a bit of a
struggle to accept the perky-faced Adams, so perfectly cast as a princess in
"Enchanted," in such a downer role.
Director Christine Jeffs and screenwriter Megan Holley are patient in their storytelling,
quietly unwrapping a family and all of its unspoken pains and lovable oddities, and
managing to tell a good story along the way.
Sunshine Cleaning is a solid entertaining and ultimately uplifting movie worthy of being
seen by more than the few who have access to the artsy cinemas. This is one that the
masses could and would enjoy.