Saturday, March 24, 2012

100 Movies - No. 85: Sunshine Cleaning

85. Sunshine Cleaning (2008)
Comedy, Drama, 91 minutes
Directed by Christine Jeffs
Starring Amy Adams, Emily Blunt and Alan Arkin

Sunshine Cleaning has a lot of amusing moments, but it's not the kind of comedy that tries to make you laugh with every line of dialogue or in every situation. Indeed, some of the subject matter is quite dark.

Rose Lorkowski (Adams) is a single mother. She's good at getting men to want her, but most don't want to date her or enter into any kind of permanent relationship. She's having an affair with a local cop, Mac (Steve Zahn), but it's clear to us that he has no intention of leaving his pregnant wife. Rose is nothing more than a diversion for him and he's not emotionally invested in the relationship.

Rose makes ends meet by working as a maid, but she's hoping to better herself. Mac finds himself investigating a suicide and discovers that it costs around $3,000 to clear up the mess. He suggests to Rose that it would be a lucrative line of work so she decides to give it a try. Rose recruits her sister, Norah (Blunt), and the two buy a van and open a business. Unfortunately, they don't have the required knowledge to do their job safely and within the law. They also don't have any kind of insurance.

The two quickly learn and are helped by the owner of a local store who explains what equipment to buy and how to become certified. Rose's life starts to improve.

The other main character is Joe (Arkin), the girls' father. He means well and is always promising his grandson trips and presents, but he rarely delivers. He reminds me of my grandfather in some ways and is always looking for some kind of scheme to earn money. One such scheme involves selling shrimp to local restaurants, but he's stuck with them when the restaurant owners refuse to buy for health reasons.

This is a quiet film with some good observations on life. One sequence shows Rose desperately trying to fit in with women she knew in school. Why is it important to her that she looks good in front of them? The film doesn't try to make Rose and Norah glamorous. They are portrayed as normal people with flaws and problems to overcome. Both actresses are likable and their relationship feels authentic. Rose has been looking after Norah since their mother died.

There's quite a lot of depth to the film at times. Rose realizes that the job sometimes involves becoming a part of people's lives for a brief period. There's a particularly touching scene in which she comforts a confused old woman who has just found out that her husband is dead. This is the kind of film that can make you reflect on sad situations and then make you laugh a minute later.

The casting is an important ingredient. Adams and Blunt have good chemistry and Arkin holds everything together. While his character often seems clueless, there's a lot more to him. He clearly cares about his daughters and does his best to be a positive force in their lives.

The film also challenges our definition of success. Is career success more important than family or romantic relationships? Does it matter how you make a living if you take care of yourself and the people who are close to you? Should we try and conform to society's definition of success?

Adams sometimes accepts questionable roles, but she is talented and can shine in the right part. I was particularly impressed with her supporting role in Doubt, and she shows here that she has a lot to offer as a dramatic actress as well as in lighter roles.

If you like Sunshine Cleaning:

This kind of quirky comedy appeals to me. If it's your kind of thing, consider Little Miss Sunshine. Arkin is involved once more and won an Oscar for his performance. It also stars Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell and Toni Collette. Although the word "sunshine" is present in both titles, the two films are not otherwise related.

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  1. Nice review, Steven. I'm a big fan of Blunt and especially Adams, but for some weird reason I haven't seen this yet.

  2. Hi Fernando,

    One of my favorite Adams performances, along with Doubt and Junebug. You'll probably love it.