Sunshine Cleaning, a simple story with unexpected surprises, is filled with reality through the performances of Amy Adams, Emily Blunt and Alan Arkin. However, it's the story's quirky tone and Christine Jeffs' (Sylvia) simplistic direction that make the movie work.
Rose Lorkowski (Adams) should have a better life. She’s a single mom working as a maid in the homes of those who were her peers when she was the most popular girl in high school. Instead of being married to her high school sweetheart and school quarterback Mac (Steve Zhan), she meets the married Mac at a local hotel for a quickie whenever he can break free from his job as one of the small town’s police officers.
Too busy to worry about her future, Rose has to take care of her 7-year-old son, Oscar (Jason Spevack), who always seems to get into trouble at school. Rose also has to rein in her out-of-control, tattooed and prickly sister Norah (Blunt).
When Rose is offered a cleaning job at a new house, she opens her eyes concerning how sad her life really is. The home belongs to Rose’s old school chum who invites her to a baby shower with some of their former friends. Although Rose is excited to finally “fit in,” the situation only accentuates the mundane aspects of her life. After Rose runs into Mac’s wife (Mary Lynn Rajskub) who tells her she knows about the affair, Rose understands she’s basically a looser.
A chance to start a better job arises when Rose and her sister begin Sunshine Cleaning, a business cleaning up crime scenes. Unaware of the protocol or environmental rules involved, the girls plunge head on into cleaning up blood and other elements left behind once the yellow tape gets taken down. Her ignorance of the law presents even more obstacles for Rose.
The story here is about more than what one sees on the screen, for the underlying theme concerns how two sisters overcome the tragic death of their mother while helping their father (Arkin) move on with his life, and making their own dreary lives better.
While the theme is understated, it’s highlighted by screenwriter Megan Holley’s quirky humor as illustrated mostly through the characters portrayed by Arkin and Blunt -- with Adams the re-bounder of their mirth. Arkin appears like a shadow of the character he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for in Little Miss Sunshine. In Sunshine Cleaning, he’s not quite as caustic, and his noble desire to do good by his fractured daughters shines through all his bizarre efforts.
Blunt stands out far differently than she did in The Devil Wears Prada. More than a snide, jealous woman, Blunt presents Norah as a troubled and defiant teen on the outside but a needy and wounded soul on the inside. Adams (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day) immerses herself in every role she plays as her Oscar nominations for both Doubt and Junebug validate. As Rose, she carries the weight of the world on her shoulder while sloughing off the torpedoes of failure like they’re balloons. “I really could identify with wanting to be more than you are, in a different place than you were born into, to sort of elevate your status in the world,” Adams said. “That's something I think a lot of people identify with.”
In the supporting cast, Clifton Collins Jr., as a somewhat mentor to Rose, and Jason Spevack, as Oscar, add interesting elements to the story.
Sunshine Cleaning is a slice-of-life entertainment offering both humor and heartbreaking melodrama.
(Released by Overture Films and rated “R” for language, disturbing images, some sexuality and drug use.)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.