IT’S A LITTLE hard at first imagining such vibrant actresses as Amy Adams and Emily Blunt playing loser sisters in the offbeat dramedy “Sunshine Cleaning,” but they have you believing in their characters even if the rest of the film is a stretch.
“Sunshine Cleaning,” directed by Christine Jeffs (“Sylvia”), begins with a bang: A suicide splatters himself all over a sporting-goods store. Mac (Steve Zahn), the Albuquerque, N.M., cop investigating, notices how much the cleaning company charges to tidy up and mentions it to Rose (Adams), his former high school sweetheart with whom he’s now having an affair.Once a popular cheerleader, Rose is, as she explains, the type of woman who is good at getting men to like her but not to marry her. Now she finds herself cleaning houses for the same women who once envied her. When her 7-year-old son Oscar (Jason Spevack) is thrown out of school and she needs money to enroll him in a private one, Rose decides that crime-scene cleanup, “a growth business,” is the way to go.
She enlists the help of her pot-smoking sister, Norah (Blunt), who can’t hold a job. Calling it Sunshine Cleaning to give such distasteful work a positive spin, the sisters plunge right in by underbidding the competition without knowing the rules and regulations.
Mopping up after shootings and suicides requires them to choke back their gag reflexes but also brings some laughs. (Rose tries to be brave, but neither she nor Norah ever really gets over the squeamishness.)
Besides bringing in cash, the new endeavor gives the sisters perspective on their own going-nowhere lives. They get to see how people lived and died, then meet those affected. Rose begins to shed her victimhood, while Norah, who like her sister is haunted by the death of their mother when they were kids, comes across the picture of a dead woman’s daughter (Mary Lynn Rajskub) and sets out to find her.
Shot in what frequently looks like available light, “Sunshine Cleaning” often seems as changeable as the Albuquerque sky. There is a subplot involving Alan Arkin (the sisters’ father and a salesman) who is forced to baby-sit Oscar while on the road selling his wares. (This bit will seem familiar considering that the production team was also behind “Little Miss Sunshine.”)
Neither Arkin’s part nor the comedy and darker aspects of Megan Holley’s script fit together easily. “Sunshine Cleaning,” which has been recut since it was shown at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, has its charms, and Jeffs creates some winning moments. She allows Adams, an Oscar nominee for “Doubt,” and Blunt plenty of room to explore their characters.
Adams’ Rose walks a tightrope of insecurity and determination, and yet the actress makes you believe in her. Blunt, who gets to display her comic side, gives depth to Norah, never letting her be a cliched slacker. The two make “Sunshine Cleaning” easily worth watching.
Source: Pop Matters