Screenwriters: Megan Holley
Starring: Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Jason Spevack, Steve Zahn, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Clifton Collins Jr
Running time: 91 mins
When it premiered at Sundance in 2008, many expected Sunshine Cleaning to be the festival's big success story. It had all the right components - a quirkily offbeat script, the producers of Little Miss Sunshine and three great stars in Amy Adams, Emily Blunt and Alan Arkin - but screened to mixed word of mouth and only found a US distributor after the prestigious festival ended. It's hard to see why, because although it never reaches the dizzy heights of its spiritual Sunshine predecessor, it's a smartly observed, heart-warming drama about a fractured family reconciling.
It centres on Rose Lorkowski (Adams), a former high school cheerleader who still liaises with Mac, the married father of her son Oscar, at grubby motels. Oscar is unfairly marked as a "trouble" child at school (more a case of boys being boys) and Rose withdraws him with the intention of getting him a private education. Without the funds to support a better school, she takes Mac's advice and begins working in the lucrative field of crime scene clean-up, bringing her slovenly sister Norah (Blunt) along for the ride.
The blood-spattered premise may lean towards gimmickry, but director Christine Jeffs and writer Megan Holley use it as a catalyst to construct a moving and funny family drama. The dark jagged edges and gallows humour ironically breathe life into the tale, which in lesser hands could have fallen into the formulaic 'life lesson' trappings of low-budget indie. Examining the fragile ties that bind blood relatives and how they work through grief (the Lorkowskis are still coming to terms with their mother's suicide) it's a film that will break your heart then send it soaring.
Adams and Blunt's sisterhood, one of petty squabbles and reluctant admiration, is poignantly portrayed - hardly a surprise since they're two of the most precise young actresses in Hollywood at the moment. Adams's Rose is stoically defiant, refusing to let her life's tragic misfortune wear her down. She is particularly brilliant implying to affluent friends at a baby shower that their life isn't for her, and later when tearfully voicing her thoughts to her departed mother via an old CB radio. It is Blunt's Norah, though, who walks away with the movie. Wading through the belongings of those that have died tragically, she is led to nervous weirdo Lynn (played by queen of nervous weirdos Mary Lynn Rajskub). Both lost their mothers young, and their connection fizzles out quickly, but their tressling adventure sets in motion an emotionally-charged finale that ends in the film's lovable eccentrics finding solace.
Sunshine Cleaning also has Alan Arkin, playing the crotchety old patriarch to perfection, and Clifton Collins Jr's one-armed store owner providing stellar (if a touch underutilised) support. Jeffs shows economy in her direction and steers through the potentially difficult script with skilful handling of tone and mood, wonderfully striking balance between laughs and tears. What a relief it is to unearth this quietly sparkling gem in a summer of noisy battling robots.
> What do you think of the movie? Share your views