Sunshine Cleaning (2008) / Drama-Comedy

MPAA Rated: R for language, disturbing images, some sexuality and drug use
Running time: 91 min.

Cast: Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Jason Spevack, Steve Zahn, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Clifton Collins Jr., Eric Christian Olsen, Paul Dooley
Christine Jeffs
Screenplay: Megan Holley

As with many indie films, fine-tuned characterizations are what sparks this dramedy to life, heavy on quirky characters and bits that reveal its themes in ways that aren't always the most crowd pleasing.  While there are artificial elements to the story, there is a genuineness to the characterizations that allows the film to take hold and emerge as a winning comedic drama about women finding the strength to cope with tragedy and move on with their lives, even well into adulthood.

Amy Adams (Charlie Wilson's War, Enchanted) plays 30-something Albuquerque maid Rose Lorkowski, whose high school days had such promise that it's a major disappointment that her life still hasn't resulted in anything but stagnation and dead ends.  She's still seeing her high school sweetheart (Zahn, Bandidas), the captain of the football team -- though the catch that he's married to someone else and only uses her for the occasional booty call might suggest how hard it is for her to let go.  In her mind, she tries to be strong, yet whatever direction she tries to go in order to better her life, she lacks the resolve to follow without letting go of the past. 

On his suggestion, she follows a course to make more money for herself by starting her own cleaning company to clean that which no one else would want to -- completely disturbing homes and businesses that are polluted crime scenes filled with blood and viscera.  In the process of gaining her legs, she finds herself still struggling with the past and who she is, which puts her at a crossroads to whether she can be the success she's always dreamed she could be.

Refreshing is the independent spirit of the production, along with a mostly female perspective on the events (a female director (Jeffs, Sylvia), screenwriter (Holley), and main stars solidify that).  Where a typical Hollywood movie tends to give its heroine a happy ending by finding a solution to all of her problems through getting the man she's always dreamed of, Sunshine Cleaning takes a different approach by seeing the man of her dreams as not available and ultimately holding her back from what she really wants to do in life.

A fine portrayal by Adams as a woman in conflict grounds the picture into just enough realm of reality to not seem overly quirky, though it is still heavy on whimsy at times.  Emily Blunt (Dan in Real Life, The Devil Wears Prada), despite a commendable dramatic performance and convincing American accent, seems a bit miscast as Rose's carefree (and careless) goth/punk sister, Norah, not feeling edgy enough to give off that vibe of a tatted, spunky mess of a person the role is written to be.  The two struggle to find their footing, especially growing up without one, with a mother no longer there through a traumatic event that would forever change their lives, and a father who is still performing "get rich quick" schemes he's devised to earn a living, mostly unsuccessfully.

Sunshine Cleaning isn't the comedy it had been marketed to be, though the elements are certainly ingrained in the story, so temper expectations that you'll be smiling throughout.  It's similar to, but not nearly as much of a comedy as that other "Sunshine" movie with an Albuquerque, New Mexico setting, Little Miss Sunshine, with its dysfunctional family anchored by the dryly quirky paternal Alan Arkin (Firewall, Thirteen Conversations About One Thing).  At its core, the story is about one woman who constantly questions her own self worth, and the struggle she goes through to try to find it through cleaning up the mess (literally) of other people's unhappy lives.  It's actually a sad film much of the time, but hopeful and affirming throughout, even in its bleaker moments.    

 Qwipster's rating:

©2010 Vince Leo