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A struggling single mom named Rose (Amy Adams in her comedy/drama
wheelhouse) gets tired of working for a maid service and boldly decides
to branch out into crime scene clean-up with her lay-about sister Norah
(Emily Blunt, ironically named) in Christine Jeffs' observant and
easy-going "Sunshine Cleaning".
Although it has been marketed as one of those quirky dramedies the studios love to shove down our throats every year, Jeffs' film (from a solid screenplay from Megan Holley) is more in tune with somber yet hopeful indie character studies. The film deals with some dark subject matter and poignantly explores grief and family dysfunction but maintains a positive outlook and contains some solid situational laughs. The combination of an interesting set-up, smart writing, likable characters and winning performances make the film, even when it teeter-totters from dark to sappy, go down smooth. None of the characters seem forced upon us, unlike the overtly quirky family from "Little Miss Sunshine" or the stylized dialog spewing teens from "Juno". These characters talk and interact like real people and there's a naturalism in the way their relationships develop.
It makes for engaged viewing when a film like this doesn't feel the need to explain every detail or tie up every loose end so nicely. Some subplots involving Norah taking a personal interest in one of the clean-up jobs that leads to an awkward friendship with a blood-bank worker (Mary Lynn Rajskub of "24" fame) or a one-armed supply store guy (Clifton Collins Jr.) who takes a shine to Rose aren't resolved in a typical fashion, and some things are never made known or left open-ended. It makes the film feel truer to life. Even when Rose's precocious kid (Jason Spevack) tries to talk to heaven on a CB radio in what would normally be considered a contrived and cutesy moment, you feel like you've grown to know the character and it's just something he would do. Likewise, Alan Arkin as the sisters' scheming entrepreneurial father behaves and acts like a real guy who's had to struggle raising two girls alone and is just trying to help them catch a break.
Amy Adams, of course, is an absolute delight. Something about her girl-next-door good looks combined with her innate talents as a comedienne and her theatrical background that produces some of the best facial expressions and crying-on-cue you'll ever see make her the perfect choice for this type of role. While it's easy to sing the praises of Adams, and she's never been more endearing or relatable than here, Emily Blunt proves to be an excellent foil. It's Blunt's sharp portrayal and her character's story arc that provide the film its emotional weight. Both actresses deserve to be remembered come awards season, and "Sunshine Cleaning" is that rare spring-time bird: a film worthy of buzz.
I quite liked the film. I would watch Amy Adams stare at grass and Emily Blunt is always top notch. One thing that stuck out for me about the film was that it offers a look at real working-class people doing real work, and does so in a respectful manner. Rose tries to put a positive spin on her post-mortem cleanup work to gathered yuppies in an awkward social setting and is clearly defensive. But you can see her coming to value the work for the good it does. There is nothing wrong with adventure thrillers about high crimes and misdemeanors, about the far-too-well-to-do, and about easy lives, but it is heartening to see hard-scrabble work valued, not just as a barrier to be overcome but as a thing that has intrinsic value and that does real good. Rose and Nora take on work that the yuppie ladies would never dream of tackling, and do real good for real people. This is a film that does not dazzle us with fireworks or glitter, but it has heart. We like that.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In confronting her big sister Rose (Amy Adams), emotionally bare Norah
(Emily Blunt) declares, "I don't need you to take care of me anymore.
It's not your job
It never was." Director Christine Jeffs's "Sunshine
Cleaning" is very unexpected, in the best way. It is funny and
wonderfully quirky. The surprise is its poignancy and brilliant
resolve. Amy Adams and Emily Blunt are amazing, and have a stark
chemistry. Their relationship is unquestioned love, and explosive
conflict. Meg Holly's screenplay set in Albuquerque, New Mexico follows
the unlikely story of Rose and Norah as they pursue their business in
the biohazard removal/ crime scene cleaning service. Now that is novel.
But "Sunshine Cleaning" is really about touchingly completing Rose and
Norah's relationship with their dead mother. Adams balances
vulnerability and brave resilience. Blunt is brilliant bravado masking
profound suffering. Jeffs and Holly demonstrate a natural compassion
and power throughout "Sunshine Cleaning".
Rose is the dedicated single mom raising Oscar (natural Jason Spevack). Oscar is having problems in school, displaying anti-social behavior such as licking his teacher's leg. Oscar requires special schooling, something Rose can't afford with her current cleaning service job. This is a far cry from her glorious cheerleader days. Oh yes, she is having an affair with the former quarterback Mac (jerky good Steve Zahn), who has no intentions of leaving his wife. Rose's life is broken. At one point she breaks down telling Winston (Clifton Collins Jr.), "I was good at getting guys to want me " But she can't get them to love her.
Younger sister Norah is the smart ass brazen slacker, who can't hold a job. Norah lives with their Dad Joe (wonderful Alan Arkin). Widower Joe, instead of having a real job, always has some sort of business scheme brewing whether it is selling candy pop corn or moving shrimp in bulk. Arkin restrains Joe's idiosyncrasies enough to provoke our compassion. As it turns out his grandson Oscar is really bright, just a victim of the family weirdness, which is not fatal. Spevack has the right charm to carry this off.
At the urging of Mac (Zahn) and using some of his police detective pull, Rose falls into the biohazard removal and crime scene cleaning niche business. Of course she enrolls Norah into the business as well, after all what else is Norah going to do. Rose forms a close bond with Cleaning Supply Owner Winston (compassionate Clifton Collins), but she is too blind to see that he is a decent man, unlike Mac.
The captivating narrative thread involves Norah's obsession to watch their mother's TV movie appearance, where she plays a waitress. Both Rose and Norah deal with the tragedy of their mother differently. And it is not coincidence that their job deals with death and cleaning up all aspects of the aftermath, the physical and the human. It's hysterical as Norah falls into a bloodied mattress. It is touchingly solemn as Rose sits with the elder widow, whose husband killed himself. Jeffs reminds us of our humanity throughout. There is a mesmerizing scene as both Rose and Norah watch TV.
"Sunshine Cleaning" is wonderfully quirky, at times morbid with a twisted sense of humor. "Sunshine Cleaning" also reminds us that sometimes the people we least expect will step up and be great. Adams and Blunt are awesome. Take a chance on "Sunshine Cleaning".
Just saw the film. I thought I might be let down as I've been waiting with anticipation since I saw the trailer on youtube. I can say that not only was I not let down by this film, but that it superseded them in the most refreshing way possible. There was something I noticed about the movie. It had great comical moments, but it was not the funniest film ever. It had great acting, writing, and was filmed beautifully...and yet I'm sure that it is probably not the best film ever. What I loved about it though was that it was NOT like most films of late that try so hard to be the best film ever. You know the ones with the fancy film work and the melodrama...the lines written that are asking for an Oscar. Sometimes those just irritate me because they are trying so hard to be a great film and they forget to tell a great story. The film makers didn't forget that here. I was not distracted by anything. Everything came together in this film that I felt like I knew the people and I wanted to know what happened to them. I liked it because it reminded me that we're all human. I love that.
Greetings again from the darkness. Ahhh, the first 2009 script (by
Megan Holley) that has the depth, nuances and multiple sub-plots that
keep me addicted to movies. Sure one can view this as a simple story of
the emotionally struggling sisters who start a bio-hazard clean-up
company to connect not just with each other, but also with those who
have been the victim of a profound event involving a loved one. It
works just fine on that level.
Of course, I never make things that easy. For this viewer, I was absorbed in the connection the sisters had to their dead mother. The quest for a glimpse of her one movie of the week performance as a waitress had the sisters trained to stop in their tracks whenever a "waitress" scene appeared on TV. The sisters are played exceedingly well by the extraordinarily talented Amy Adams and Emily Blunt. Their performances lift a really good script to greatness.
For most movies, that would be plenty. Not here. Director Christine Jeffs ("Sylvia") gets to play with Alan Arkin as the always scheming father, a quick commentary on the disgusting "solution" of public schools tendency to require medication on less than robotic kids, emotionally empty relationships, and the absolute need of people to connect with others.
The fine acting continues with Steve Zahn as the former high school hero turned local cop, whom Adams' character has maintained a long term "bond". Trouble is Zahn's character picked someone else to marry. Clifton Collins Jr adds a wonderful dimension as Adams' possibly new prospect. Mary Lynn Rajskub is just plain fascinating as the lonely lady Blunt thinks she is helping.
Being promoted as from the creators of "Little Miss Sunshine", this one offers up a nice story complimented by many quirks that make it stand apart from the masses. Hopefully it will find wider distribution as we can never have enough top notch story telling.
Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) was once a popular cheerleader and a person of envy, back in those high school years. However, she has made some questionable choices since then and now works as a home cleaner to support herself and her young son, Oscar. She does a have a back-up system in her wheeler-dealer father, Joe (Alan Arkin) and in her frequently out-of-work younger sister, Norah (Emily Blunt), if she needs babysitters. She calls upon the eccentric Norah often, especially so that she, Rose, can have a late-night tryst with a married policeman, Mac (Steve Zahn). Ouch, she is still going in the wrong direction, it seems. However, Mac does give her a work tip. If she could get into the "crime scene" cleaning business, she would be pulling in large bucks, as removing blood stains is big stuff. Receiving some leads, Rose does begin to get some assignments, like cleaning up after suicide victims and folks that die in their slovenly homes. Reluctantly, Norah agrees to help and "Sunshine Cleaners" is born. But, with Oscar still having trouble in school and with Mac continuing to string her along in the love department, will Rose really rise above her present circumstances? This is a fine film about people who work hard and get nowhere. First, the cast is great, with Adams, Blunt and Arkin delivering terrific performances, ones worthy of honors. Blunt, especially, is a treasure as the unconventional woman, haunted by past circumstances, and having trouble fitting into "modern" existence. The lesser actors are also nice, but Zahn is, unfortunately, given no chances to show off his comedic touch. The setting in New Mexico is also lovely, while the costumes and look of the film are likewise wonderful. That said, special mention should also go to the very fine, sharply worded script and the secure direction. This is a heart-grabbing story, with unusual elements and unsettling realities. If you love films that are not of the typical, churn-em-out variety, this one is definitely a worthy choice. It is as illuminating as sunshine and as touching as they come.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Sunshine Cleaning" is an odd mix of gross-out comedy and melodramatic
family drama, possibly why it's being compared to its producer's first
film "Little Miss Sunshine." The other reason might be that Alan Arkin
is in it. But if the goal was to capture all of the sweet gooey fun of
"Little Miss", then "Cleaning" comes up a couple inches short. This
flick from director Christine Jeffs and screenwriter Megan Holley is
less about being cute or sweet and more about how a person's death can
shape our lives. It can be very funny at times and also a downer at
times but what keeps things fairly level are the two fantastic
performances coming from Amy Adams and Emily Blunt.
They play sisters Rose (Adams) and Norah (Blunt). Rose was once a high school cheerleader dating the star quarterback, but now wonders what happened to her life. A single mother forced to work as a maid to support herself and her young son (Jason Spevack), Rose clings to what's left of the good in her life by being the mistress to the former HS Quarterback (Steve Zahn) and hoping that one day she has enough money to get her real estate license. Norah is the younger sister, still living at home with dad (Alan Arkin) and too irresponsible to even hold on to a waitressing job. Desperately in need of money, the two hear about the gross yet apparently lucrative business of biohazard clean up and before you know it they're the Martha Stewarts of murder/suicide aftermath.
It's a funny premise and you can just imagine the morbid and disgusting fun the movie can have with blood, body excretions, horrible smells and other sloppy situations one might encounter with dead-body mess. A scene where Rose and Norah are carrying a mattress is gross-out humor at its funniest. Holley likes these things but doesn't revel in them. She wants to add some heart as well and succeeds in being both honest and introspective as the job encourages both girls to think about how the death of their own mother has shaped them into the women they've become. Unfortunately the laughs stop in the second half and the family stuff is pushed to the point of being a drawn-out downer.
Another thing I thought the movie could have done better was the subplot of the girls bringing some comfort to the remaining family of the deceased. Rose sits with a woman whose husband just committed suicide and Norah befriends one's aloof daughter (Mary Lyn Rajskub) and tries to connect with her because of her own mommy issues. Just I wished the movie spent more time inserting the girls into the lives of these people and fleshing them out to a point where they're not just tools for sympathy. A supply clerk (Clifton Collins Jr.) is also tossed into the script as a possible love interest for later but nothing ever happens with him either.
The melding of gross comedy and heartfelt family drama doesn't really work but what holds this movie together are what I believe to be the two best female performances i've seen all year so far. Adams is very sympathetic and resourceful as a woman trying to achieve respect again whereas Blunt plays the wayward younger sister role as both irresponsibly endearing (her going on about the story of lobster man and how being a bastard is badass makes her a fantastic aunt) and painfully vulnerable. The two of them together counteract each other and make a funny, heartfelt pairing. The rest of the cast includes Alan Arkin, whose quirky but doesn't really get that much funny material, Clifton Collins, who shows considerable charm and charisma despite playing a one-armed supply store clerk, and Jason Spevack, whose cute but not in that annoying little kid way.
"Sunshine Cleaning" works on the backs of its two stars though. Overall it doesn't feel as much of a complete work as say "Little Miss Sunshine", not that I'm trying to compare the two or saying that "Cleaning" is a bad flick, because it's not. I'd say its one of the better movies I've seen this year, but it could have benefited from a tighter script.
I watched this movie in a sneak Preview, so I had no idea, what I had
to expect from this. The title is not giving away too much, which I
will respect, so if you want to read something about the story, read
the summary here on this site.
The acting in this is really great, but some might have a problem with the pace of the movie. It moves along slowly and it's not "in your face" funny, but more a subtle kind of humor (most of the times). It's actually more a drama than a comedy. And Alan Arkin is exceptional as ever, even if he's not the main role here. With a few up and downs, this nice little film has a winning charm, that is worth a view.
Oddly whimsical for a dark foray into the humorous side of crime-scene
clean-up, Sunshine Cleaning amusingly examines the lives of two sisters
who attempt to mend the hurt in their personal lives while mopping up
the dismal outcomes of others' failed resolutions. Contrasting the
sisters' troubles and reconciliation over their mother's tragic death
with their desire to find a connection within the "clients" of their
peculiar profession, the film succeeds in presenting an engagingly
naturalistic drama primarily thanks to some enchanting acting from Amy
Adams and Emily Blunt, and the always scene-stealing Alan Arkin
channeling his performance from another "Sunshine." Rose Lorkowski (Amy
Adams) finds herself a single mother attempting to support her son
Oscar (Jason Spevack) and her unreliable sister Norah (Emily Blunt)
while working a mundane job as a maid. Once the head cheerleader in
school with plenty of prospects, Rose now has little to show for her
years, and while she still sees the former lead football player (Steve
Zahn), it is little more than a despondent affair. When Oscar is
expelled from public school, Rose takes a job as a bio-hazard
crime-scene cleaner to help pay for a private education, and brings
Norah on to help in her steadily growing business. As the sisters work
to clean up the messes left behind by the chaotic lives of others, they
must learn to reconcile their own differences and overcome a troubled
past if they hope to prosper in their newfound venture.
Sunshine Cleaning is a deceptively simple slice-of-dysfunctional-life comedy that follows a pattern reminiscent of Five Easy Pieces mixed with Little Miss Sunshine. The characters themselves embody various stereotypes of maladjusted individuals, each graced with enough redeeming qualities that they're relatable instead of contemptible - which is often the opposite in painfully dark comedies. Occasionally the film delves into disturbing complications that seem oddly superfluous, but adds depth to the subplots - reflecting the messiness of life, in the anatomy of a metaphorical crime scene waiting to be cleaned up.
Once again Amy Adams' performance is teary-eyed and sensational, demonstrating her maturity, acting chops and surprising range of emotions that don't seem initially possible with her pleasantly youthful face. Supporting roles by Emily Blunt and Alan Arkin are also noteworthy; Norah creates the missing piece to Rose's overwhelming feelings of responsibility, and their father steals the show with alternating comic relief and desperation for making ends meet. Their performances are genuine and affecting and bring light to a story that is realistically melancholy but unquestionably entertaining.
- The Massie Twins
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