Amy Adams and Emily Blunt play two sisters who stumble into the crime scene cleanup business, with disastrous results. Aiming to be a smart, quirky comedy with a hard edge, the film lacks the emotional sophistication it needed to reach the finish line, but it does offer a few good moments thanks to performance value. Alan Arkin and Steve Zahn co-star.
Starring: Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin and Steve Zahn.
Rating: Two stars out of five
Contrived quirkiness can be as awkward and cringe-inducing as bad acting. It’s like watching a swimmer tread water with one arm or a figure skater land a triple toe-loop fanny first: Everything starts to look harder than it really should be.Sadly, such is the case for Sunshine Cleaning. An ambitious comedy with dripping dramatic undertones, Sunshine Cleaning features the lovable Amy Adams as Rose Lorkowski, a nice single mother seeking the next rung on the socio-economic ladder.
Rose currently cleans houses for a living, but when a new client turns out to be an old cheerleading colleague from high school, she feels a wave of humiliation and hungers for something more.
Over casual sex with her policeman lover, played here by a very straight Steve Zahn, she learns about the crime-scene cleanup business. Apparently, cleaning up bits and pieces of human debris can be very lucrative, and if there’s one thing that’s going to make Rose feel better, it’s a pocketful of cash.
Cut to a scene showing a man take his own life in a hunting store. The shotgun blast to the head represents Rose’s entry into the cleanup biz, but in the hands of director Christine Jeffs, the suicide becomes something of a comic opportunity.
How and when did violent tragedy morph into the preferred comic motif among Hollywood wannabes? We can offer our undying thanks to Quentin Tarantino for introducing the masses to the yuk appeal of stray skull fragments, but Jeffs deserves a big slap to the back of the head, too, because she goes even further down the drain of good taste.
Hoping to mine crime scenes for touching moments between Rose and her equally unfocused sister Norah (Emily Blunt), Jeffs creates moments where sentimentality and disgust mingle in the fetid air of death.
Because Adams and Blunt are so cute, and so sympathetic, maybe Jeffs felt a few blood-soaked mattresses wouldn’t hurt the overall tone of the picture. After all, the two female leads aren’t just talented, they have a great rapport and bring plenty of presence to the frame.
Yet, for all that raw talent, the two women can do little but squirm beneath the weight of the material.
Complicating matters is an entirely useless plot thread about the daughter of one of the dead bodies. The whole subplot is so gratuitous, and entirely out of left field, that it’s hard to respect the rest of the movie as it tries to figure out which button to push next.
From a one-armed janitorial supply salesman to a goofy grandpa character played by Alan Arkin, Sunshine Cleaning goes after the Little Miss Sunshine legacy by making the gritty seem charming, and the morose seem perky.
Perhaps the filmmakers could have pulled it off with a little more smarts and a lot more humanity, but they fall short on both scores because the script doesn’t scratch at the deeper psychology between the two sisters and the dad.
It tries to go there with a sketchy piece of dialogue about death, but the characters are only half there — and as a result, the complexity it would take to achieve a bright, spunky balance between the concepts of cute and corpse fails to manifest.
Because Adams and Blunt are solid performers, and do their best to bring something extra to each scene, there’s still some enjoyment to be had watching the film — as long as you can handle watching a movie flail, and the emotional mess it leaves behind.
Source: Vancouver Sun