Sunshine Cleaning

Director    Christine Jeffs
Starring    Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Steve Zahn, Mary-Lynn Rajskub, Clifton Collins Jr
Release    20 MAR (US) 26 JUN (UK)    Certificate 15
3 stars


24th June 2009

The easiest and most obvious comparison to make with Sunshine Cleaning is with Little Miss Sunshine - both films come from the same producers, both are feel-good indie comedies, both feature Alan Arkin as a world-weary granddad imparting his wisdom to a young 'un and, um... both have the word 'Sunshine' in the title. That'll do, review finished - "This year's Little Miss Sunshine!" 10/10 Alan Frank, Daily Star. Pub still open?

That's not entirely fair. It's not far off, but it's still selling it short a little. Whereas Little Miss Sunshine had saccharine at its soft centre, Sunshine Cleaning has something a little more gooey and icky - both movies rely on a certain degree of schmaltz, but at least the latter tries to scrub it away with industrial strength bleach.

Amy Adams plays Rose Lorkowski, a single mother with a dead-end cleaning job, few friends and an ill-advised affair with a married cop (Steve Zahn) on the back burner. Her younger sister Norah (Emily Blunt with a flawless US accent) is equally directionless and newly unemployed, proving too irresponsible to even hold down a simple waitressing job. With the bills stacking up, circumstances conspire and lead the girls to set up their own crime scene cleaning company, holding their noses as they undercut the pros and get their hands dirty.

Just a reminder: working on brain detail ain't much fun. Sunshine Cleaning is far from a ray of light - there's a very real undercurrent of unhappiness flowing through the film, just bubbling beneath the surface. However, down in the muck, up to her knees in filth, is the movie's beating heart in the form of Amy Adams - she's simply wonderful. Anyone who's seen Junebug can attest to her dramatic chops, and it's nice to see a little sex in her role after a few family-friendly outings. Her vacant stare is just killer; when her eyes well up, it's like watching a Disney princess cry. But with that smile - that disarming, million dollar grin - she lightens up the film, even in its darkest moments.

Blunt has less to work with but still comes out smelling of roses (though not literally), under-playing a token role of 'mean and moody sister' by avoiding typical goth clich├ęs and pitfalls. She has an interesting relationship with 24's Mary-Lynn Rajskub, playing a relative of a victim, one that's never sensationalised or tied up with a neat little bow - just adults dealing with adult situations like adults do. Said romance is a neat by-product of a movie with a number of pleasing twists and turns; you're never quite sure where it'll end up. With the chemistry between sisters cracked thanks to sterling work from Blunt and Adams, you'll be happy to go where Sunshine Cleaning takes you.

Unfortunately, there are a number of unnecessary scenes included, seemingly to up the quota of 'feel-good' - life lessons, as always, must be learned before the credits roll. Blunt's 'trestling' scene, where she climbs underneath a wooden train platform and enjoys the subsequent rush as the train goes by overhead, stinks of Garden State-esque "I feel so alive!" phoney sentiment. Adams, meanwhile, suffers a tear-jerk too far when she uses her cleaning van's CB radio to speak to her dead mother. It's too cutesy by far for a movie that otherwise strikes the right balance between coal-black laughs and family drama.

Ignore a number of story shortcuts - hey, it sure is easy to wander on to a crime scene and start cleaning shit up without a licence! - and you'll find Sunshine Cleaning a compelling and thoroughly adult picture, boasting an original plot and, in Adams and Blunt, two of the most talented young actresses working today. It's no Little Miss Sunshine, but it certainly deserves to be seen by just as many people.

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