Once the high school cheerleading captain who dated the quarterback, Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) now finds herself a thirty something single mother working as a house cleaning maid amidst an affair with a married cop, Mac (Steve Zahn). Her sister Norah (Emily Blunt) is still living at home with their dad Joe (Alan Arkin), a salesman with a lifelong history of ill-fated get rich quick schemes. Desperate to get her smart young son Oscar (Jason Spevack) into a better school, Rose picks up an idea from Mac and persuades Norah to join her in the crime scene clean-up business, which pays better.
Review by Louise Keller:
Surprisingly moving, this subtle black comedy that deals with cleaning up the mess that life dishes out, has plenty more going for it than an unusual premise. Megan Holley's script weaves together a complex tale about survival, demons and family and we instantly engage with the characters whose contradictions simply glare at us. Sisters queasy at the sight of blood take on a job in which being confronted by gore is a given. But the story does not lead where you expect and irony's flag waves strongly in the breeze throughout. Exceptional performances from Amy Adams and Emily Blunt elevate this poignant and quirky tale into an engrossing experience and one that allows authentic sunshine to peek through the dark clouds within.
'It's a racket; you should get into it,' Steve Zahn's adulterous cop Mac tells Amy Adams' Rose about the lucrative opportunities that crime scene clean up offers, as they are about to fall into bed together in a motel room. It's an idea that has little appeal to Rose - until she is desperate enough to try anything. It's tough bringing up a child on your own (especially a super bright one with disruptive behaviour) and now, working as a maid with only a distant memory of her college days when she was a success as a cheerleader, Rose's self image is all negative. Adams allows all her emotions to show in her vulnerable face as she takes charge of her life. Emily Blunt's Nora is the damaged younger sister who likes weird. Blunt gives an edgy performance that couples sensitivity and daredevil. She is the sentimental one and cannot help but become involved with tangible items from the places they clean up. Playing a role not dissimilar to the one he played in Little Miss Sunshine, Alan Arkin is the sisters' scene-stealing, stubborn, supportive and unpredictable father Joe who has unusual ideas of his own.
Clifton Collins Jr. plays Winston, the sympathetic one-armed cleaning supplier who makes model plans in his spare time. It's a great character and one we wish we could get to know better. Jason Spevack is well cast as Oscar, the 8 year old who thinks a CB radio has a direct line to heaven, a plot line that has an effective pay off. There are some nice twists to the story and director Christine Jeffs keeps the mood just right, allowing our focus to be on the emotional wellbeing of the two girls who have an unexpected connection to the crime scenes they visit. The contradiction of terms and emotions is what makes this such an affecting film and one that ultimately lifts our spirits as it reinforces the importance of family and the symbolic tidying up of untidy ends.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The irony of the Sunshine named small enterprise specialising in cleaning up post-death mess suggests the filmmakers may be aiming for a tone of dark comic entertainment, but the film does not play out that way. Megan Holley's debut screenplay was enthusiastically picked up by the producers, but they should have spent a bit more time on developing it for potentially greater results. Holley was inspired to set her local screenplay competition entry by an item about crime scene cleaners in a paper. That's a great lead, but she didn't flesh it out quite enough to really hit pay dirt.
The film is somewhat saved by six excellent performances: Amy Adams has one of the screen's most expressive faces, bejewelled by large liquid eyes that reflect her emotions, and a subtly active set of lips that add the accents. Emily Blunt has a tougher edge to her performances and this is a great role for her as the screw-up sister who keeps getting her life wrong. Alan Arkin can reprise his garrulous grandpa act from Little Miss Sunshine several times before we'll tire of it, and young Jason Spevack is tremendously effective as curious, smart and observant Oscar.
Also tops is Clifton Collins Jr as one armed shopkeeper Winston, whose sympathies are quickly attracted to Rose, and Mary Lynn Rajskub as Lynn, the daughter of a crime scene victim tracked down by well meaning but ill advised Norah.
Somehow without his usual edgy charm, Steve Zahn disappoints in role that should never have been written (nor him cast to play it), as the married cop who uses Rose for a meaningless affair.
The screenplay tries to build a sister relationship story onto the crime scene cleaning setting, but it feels laboured and thin. There is a perfunctory feel to the whole set up, and the comedic elements are not maximised. But despite these flaws, Sunshine Cleaning offers modest entertainment, occasional laughs and some likeable characters; pity Holley didn't do more with the Winston/Rose relationship, or with Oscar's situation after she takes him out of school. The reason for that is also a promised payoff not delivered in the script.
Email this article
SUNSHINE CLEANING (M)
CAST: Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Jason Spevack, Steve Zahn, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Clifton Collins Jnr, Eric Christian Olsen, Paul Dooley, Kevin Chapman
PRODUCER: Jeb Brody, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Glenn Williamson
DIRECTOR: Christine Jeffs
SCRIPT: Megan Holley
CINEMATOGRAPHER: John Toon
EDITOR: Heather persons
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Joseph T. Garrity
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 11, 2009