Sunshine Cleaning, much like it’s lead actress, is quirky and pleasant to watch – even if it does get a bit hokey at times.
Hitting a mid-life crisis Rose (the always perky Amy Adams) spends her days cleaning homes of the wealthy and her nights in a cheap hotel room with her married high school sweetheart (Steve Zahn). She sums up her existence late in the film: “I’m good at getting guys to want me, not marry me. That, and cheerleading.” Things aren’t much better at home where her ADHD/OCD riddled son (Jason Spevack) has just gotten kicked out of another school, her father (Alan Arkin) is involved in yet another get rich scheme, and her sister Norah (Emily Blunt) has just gotten fired from yet another job. Hmm, I sense a pattern here.
The two sisters, who obviously love each other (whether they truly like each other is a harder question to answer), team-up to form a new business cleaning up crime scenes. I’ll give screenwriter Megan Holley credit for giving a new twist to the sibling story which adds some inherent dark humor to the proceedings. I can’t remember another film where Amy Adams is cleaning up blood and brains out of a bathtub (I’m pretty sure that scene was cut from Enchanted).
The film has that independent quirkiness you would expect (at times a tad too much), but the acting is good enough to help smooth over most of the rough patches. One of my favorite subplots involves Norah’s fascination with the daughter (Mary Lynn Rajskub) of recently deceased woman whose home they are cleaning. It’s one of the stranger and more interesting relationships in the film. Although Adams carries the movie Blunt steals her moments and provides some of the most memorable of the film.
There are places where the film gets a little too cute for its own good. One involves the recurring theme of the two sisters discussing, and in search of, their mother’s short cameo in a long-forgotten made-for-TV movie. If I have to tell you how this plot thread is resolved you obviously haven’t seen very many movies (or commercials aimed at women). I also would have liked to have seen a little more of Alan Arkin to get a better handle on his character who, for the most part (at least until the end), is used mainly for comic relief.
Take away the crime scene business and the film is much like many other small independent films about dysfunctional relationships, childhood dreams crushed in the cold light of young adulthood, and learning valuable lessons about who you are and living your life. Oh, and there’s lots of blood too. It’s not on the level of Little Miss Sunshine, but it’s a pleasant enough film with its heart in the right place.