Life gets messy in ‘Sunshine Cleaning’
May 5, 2009
Sunshine Cleaning • Starring Amy Adams, Emily Blunt & Alan Arkin • Rated R
The previews for “Sunshine Cleaning” make it look like a comedy. And the premise does seem funny enough: A couple of women start a crime-scene cleanup business. You could almost envision an “I Love Lucy” episode, with Lucy and Ethel mopping and sopping and somehow making even more of a sloppy mess.
But this movie isn’t really a comedy; a floor spattered with bits of a suicide victim’s brains is more “CSI” than Nick at Night. And it’s so much more than its premise. It’s what Hollywood would call “low concept,” because it’s the opposite of “high concept.” A high concept movie is one that can be described by using very few words, like “Bruce Willis, terrorists, airplane,” or “Adam Sandler, football, prison.” Well, it takes more than just a few words to do justice to the multi-layered “Sunshine Cleaners.”
The cleanup business started by sisters Rose (Amy Adams) and Norah Lorkowski (Emily Blunt) is but the hub of a bigger wheel that rolls into the heart of the movie on a journey of discovery and healing. The subplots--about Rose’s young son, a family tragedy, Rose’s sleazy affair with a married policeman (Steve Zahn), Norah’s quest to connect with the daughter of a suicide victim--are just as significant as the enterprise that gives the movie its name.
Several scenes pack a dramatic emotional wallop. Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, two fine actresses, get the opportunity to glow in strong lead roles as complex, emotionally fractured females who work hard to earn your respect--and reclaim their own. Clifton Collins Jr. is touching as the owner of a cleaning supply business who befriends Rose’s son and also takes a bit of sweet shine to his mom.
The title, and the presence of Alan Arkin in a “crusty grandpa” role, bring to mind the 2006 comedy “Little Miss Sunshine,” and for good reason. A couple of the producers behind “Sunshine Cleaning” were also the financial backers of “Little Miss Sunshine,” a small-budget indie release that became an unexpected mainstream hit. It’s understandable they’d hope box-office lightning could strike twice.
Perhaps it will, as word spreads about this likably offbeat, ultimately uplifting “dramedy.” “Sunshine Cleaning” won’t make you convulse in laughter. It will, however, remind you that in the process of cleaning up the messes of life, we can sometimes learn a lot about ourselves, discover some unexpected treasures...and maybe even laugh a little.