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  Sunshine Cleaning

Starring: Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Steve Zahn, Cliftin Collins Jr.

Directed by: Christine Jeffs

Produced by: Marc Turtletaub, Glenn Williamson, Peter Saraf, Jeb Brody

Written by: Megan Holley

Distributor: Overture Films

     It’s often said that a single performance can make a movie great and, while Sunshine Cleaning’s lighthearted nature keeps it from substantial thematic heft, you wouldn’t know it by watching Amy Adams. Always reliable but often ignored in favor of her usually-remarkable co-stars—standing out next to Meryl Steep and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt isn’t easy—this movie represents Adams’ chance to take to the spotlight. And boy does she seize the opportunity, turning what could’ve been a cartoon of a character into a deeply human woman. Adams will make you laugh and she’ll break your heart as a working-class, single-mom, part-time maid who opens a crime-scene cleanup service when her married detective lover (Steve Zahn) tells her how much extra money she could make by adding biohazards to her scrubbing repertoire. Sunshine Cleaning  could have easily seemed like a sitcom, but Adams never lets the audience remember this.

     Adams nails her character, Rose Lorkowski, in part because she realizes there is a certain element of the aforementioned triviality to her. Rose is your average blue-collar woman who can’t seem to get ahead—it’s almost in her nature to make mistakes—which is certainly a movie caricature. But Adams’ work is brilliant because she realizes people like this do exist in real-life and, instead of constantly trying to apologize for Rose, she humanizes her flaws. Adams does so primarily by showing Rose’s clear character progression as she becomes progressively successful in the crime-cleanup biz and, no longer so consumed by depression and rotten circumstance, begins to see life more clearly. For instance, Rose’s affair soon no longer seems so attractive to her because she recognizes its hopelessness. Adams’ ability to convey this distinctly American ideal of overcoming circumstance in uncanny, inventive ways—keep in mind, the movie is part zany comedy—should resonate with audiences.

      It’s a testament to Adams’ performance that I have gone over 300 words without mentioning that Sunshine Cleaning is part buddy-comedy and that the wonderful Emily Blunt is the other half of the film’s duo, playing Rose’s sister and cleanup partner Norah. Blunt, like all things in the film separate from Adams, is funny and spunky but decidedly minor. She provides strong comedic relief, but it seems that Adams is the only one who recognizes that the movie needs a strong dramatic core. But this isn’t really Blunt’s fault; writer/director Christine Jeffs doesn’t give her much to work with beyond typical (albeit amusing) misfit comedy. Just when you think the character might turn into someone deeper when she stalks a woman who responds in an oddly attracted manner (Mary Lynn Rajskub of TV’s “24”), the thread fizzles into something ultimately meaningless. Blunt fills the role with her usual charms and isn’t required to do much more. The same goes for Alan Arkin, who is essentially playing the same Grandpa he did in Little Miss Sunshine, only this time the guy’s a trunk-salesman and the kid he quackishly mentors is not a child beauty pageant contestant, but Rose’s misunderstood-at-school son (Jason Spevack).

     Sunshine Cleaning could ultimately be characterized as a missed opportunity given its surface resemblance to dramedies of proven depth, such as the aforementioned Little Miss Sunshine. But it’s so witty and funny and has such an emotional center in Adams that deeming it a disappointment seems a bit ungrateful. As far as quirky indies with mainstream-crossover potential go, Sunshine Cleaning is a perfectly enjoyable entertainment.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 3.19.2009

Screened on: 3.5.2009 at the Landmark La Jolla Village in La Jolla, CA.


Sunshine Cleaning is rated R and runs 102 minutes.

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