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No one gives a thought to what happens with all the muck and gore left after a particularly messy exit:  Murders, suicides, nasty accidents; someoneís gotta clean it up and that someone is Rose Lorkowski.  Rose is a hard-working single mom, barely able to make ends meet as a cleaning lady when she receives the news that her young sonís eccentric behaviour has gotten him tossed out of school.  Desperate times call for desperate measures now that her boy needs to go to a private school and Roseís ongoing affair with a married detective leads her to an unusual yet lucrative new career.  Sunshine Cleaning has plenty of potential for broad comedy when two disparate sisters decide to clean up nasty crime scenes for a living; thankfully the film is a lot more than that.

Director Christine Jeffs gives us a modern nuclear family, with the Lorkowski patriarch himself a single parent who struggled to raise two very different girls.  Hyper-responsible from an early age, Rose took on the role of surrogate parent to her little sister after their motherís suicide.  Norah, the younger sibling, is a rudderless ball of slack, whoís practically expected to screw up even the simplest of tasks and never fails to disappoint.  Even in this new career venture, Norah knows sheís only working beside Rose because there was no one else to ask.  The set up is ripe for recriminations and all sorts of drama weíve seen before, but the difference with Sunshine Cleaning is the real and caring way the Lorkowskis interact; their acceptance and support of each other despite their character flaws manages to be heartwarming yet refreshingly light on schmaltz.  

The humour in Sunshine Cleaning is more dry than riotously hilarious, showing nice restraint by keeping the icky crime scene snickers to a minimum, while making the most of the castís sharp, yet wonderfully off-hand timing.  Amy Adams and Emily Blunt are totally simpatico as sisters Rose and Norah, sharing a similar vibe regardless of their characterís differences making their casting as sisters perfect.  Adams, as the capable, nose-to-the-grindstone Rose, only has joy in her memories of high-school glory days and in illicit meetings with her married lover.  Adamsí hesitant delivery beautifully registers Roseís shame when faced with an old schoolmate who married well and now hires the one-time head cheerleader to clean her palatial home.  Emily Blunt as the neíer-do-well Norah is hilarious and moving.  For all her good intentions, whether itís reluctantly becoming the other half of Roseís messy new venture, babysitting and contributing to the delinquency of her nephew, or taking the awkward first steps of romance with a woman whose picture Norah finds in the home of a departed subject, the girl just canít get right.  Norahís wide, kohl-smeared saucer eyes, stunned at times at her own foolishness, show a wounded, caring girl who nobody seems to have ever had any faith in, least of all herself.  Balancing the slow burn that going into business together has lit between the siblings is a nice performance by Clifton Collins, Jr., as the one-armed owner of an industrial cleaning shop where the girls stock up after realising that a spritz of Fantastik might not be the most suitable option for removing blood stains.  Collinsí kindly, gentle Winston serves as a reminder to Rose that even in unusual packaging, there really are men in the world who arenít schmucks.  Alan Arkin plays the girlsí father, a jack-of-all-trades salesman, always on the make for the next get-rich-quick scheme.  Not far removed from Arkinís Oscar-winning role as the grandfather of 2006ís Little Miss Sunshine, the gruff, senior Lorkowski dotes on Roseís son and supports his two daughters, right or wrong, only rearing his head when there is strife between the girls.  Whatever drama thereís been about the bad choices made in this family has already taken place long before our story and like any real family; the Lorkowskis are dealing with the here and now.

A script that could have easily tread into Lifetime movie of the week territory is lifted up by skillful and heartfelt performances from its excellent cast.  The utterly charming combination of Adams and Blunt are the icing on the cake of the sentimental and smartly funny Sunshine Cleaning.

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

March 13th, 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Overture Films)

 

 

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