Critics may draw comparisons between this year's Sunshine Cleaning and 2007 Best Picture nominee Little Miss Sunshine. Both were Sundance darlings, both star the wonderful Alan Arkin, and both have optimistic-sounding titles. And despite each film's light-bright disposition, both skew closer to comedy of the darker sort. This intriguing juxtaposition worked quite well for Little Miss Sunshine, and, to a slightly lesser extent, it works for Sunshine Cleaning, too.
The off-kilter premise is what first drew me to the movie when I previewed it for last year's Sundance Film Festival. I loved that the film focuses on the dirty and demeaning task of cleaning up crime scenes, yet didn't seem as gloomy as the description suggested. By the time I saw the trailer, it was clear: No CSI confusion here. Luckily the film delighted me as much as I had hoped, mostly because the two lead actresses, Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, are so compelling to watch.
To hear a little bit more about the plot and what else I liked,
In the lead, Amy Adams is Rose Lorkowski, a former hot-shot high school cheerleader who has settled into a low-paying career of cleaning houses. Emily Blunt plays her sister Norah, who, as a failed waitress, is even more down on her luck than Rose. It seems that the strapped-for-cash sisters may have inherited a touch of fiscal bad luck from their father Joe (Alan Arkin) who is constantly searching for ways to get rich quick. And while Rose disapproves of her father's shenanigans, she, too, finds herself scheming to pay for her son's pricey private school.
Enter Sunshine Cleaning, a biohazard removal service that Rose starts with her sister when she discovers that the field is rather lucrative. What follows are oddly hilarious scenes of Rose and Norah learning the ropes of the business and navigating the truly messy world of crime scene clean-up. Picking up chunks of brain matter and bleaching out blood stains sounds like your typical horror fare, but in the hands of these two ladies, there is a sense of down-iness that comes from their "we're in this together" camaraderie.
Despite the more comical moments, there are touches of genuine grief, especially when we hear about the suicide of Rose and Norah's mother, and view some of the sisters' failed relationships (Steve Zahn and Mary Lynn Rajskub are lovely in their respective supporting roles). These parts add a melody to a movie that could otherwise be somewhat one-note.
Bottom Line: The film doesn't reach the fever-pitch fun that Little Miss has at the end, but it's still a worthwhile journey, especially if you're a fan of Blunt or Adams.
Photo courtesy of Big Beach Films