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A family. Rose and Norah, in Albuquerque, lost their mother when they were young. Rose is responsible - a housecleaner, raising her seven-year-old son Oscar. She's also having an affair with Mac, a married cop, her high-school sweetheart. Norah can't hold a job. Their dad, Joe, is quirky. When Oscar is expelled for odd behavior, Rose wants to earn enough to send him to private school. Mac suggests she clean up after crime scenes, suicides, and deaths that go undiscovered for awhile. Rose enlists Norah, and Sunshine Cleaners is born. Norah bonds with the dead, Rose finds out that it's a regulated business, and complications arise. Can a family marked by tragedy sort things out? Written by
Of late, independent films seem to fall into three ruts; the quirky indie film, the contrived indie film and the quirkily contrived indie film. Thankfully, for the most part, Sunshine Cleaning manages to avoid these associated pitfalls, and is instead a benchmark for how two sensational performances can succeed in drastically improving the quality of a film.
These aforementioned indie clichés are quite the conundrum when looked at thoughtfully. The birth of independent film-making stemmed from creativity and desire to be liberated from the shadow of the major movie conglomerates. Yet now, most of these offbeat flicks are as cold and calculated as any big budget summer movie and often drown in wacky plots and bizarre characters which are not of what free film should be an expression.
Starring the consistently stellar and always delightful leading ladies of Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, Sunshine Cleaning tells the bittersweet story of two sisters (Adams and Blunt) and their struggles to purge the horror of their mother's suicide and live normal lives. Adams as Rose and Blunt as Norah are polar opposites; Rose was the head cheerleader in high school and aches to regain that notoriety in her adult life and Norah the 'screw-up', the black sheep of the family. They are held together loosely by Rose's son Oscar and their father (Alan Arkin) that is until they find themselves in need of work. Through a less than professional police connection of Rose's (Steve Zahn) they come to start a crime scene cleanup service called Sunshine Cleaning and while they sought money, they ended up finding something more profound.
Adams and Blunt truly are remarkable and give bonafide Oscar worthy performances. Their characters never fall to any deprecating indie quirks, and are fully realized individuals. Zahn is solid in a smaller role, as is Clifton Collins Jr. as a clean-up store owner and all lend to a story that did not by any means conclude where I was suspecting. Many of the subplots are left open, but not in a unsatisfying way and while featuring ups and downs along the way, Sunshine Cleaning manages to find a hopeful tone without being sticky sweet. Perhaps by favourite aspect outside of the performances was Adam's character. We have seen in many films the former cheerleader who has grown up under the shadow of the 'losers' of their school, but never have I seen such an honest look from the view of the former. Perhaps this is a testament to Adams acting skills, but I was impressed nevertheless.
Sunshine Cleaning keeps you involved based on characters alone. There is certainly humour, tragedy and emotion to drive the story but all is born from the relationship between this broken family. I wish fresh faced director Christine Jeffs had forgone all the trends of the recent independent film movement, but there is still more then enough to admire about Sunshine Cleaning, and even more to love.
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