1 hour, 42 minutes
Second Run Seats
Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams, Serving Sara) lived the dream in high school; head cheerleader dating the quarterback Mac (Steve Zhan, Riding in Cars with Boys). Now she cleans up behind those living their dreams. She's taking realty classes which consist of secret rendezvous with the now married Mac at the Sleep-Eazy motel. Meanwhile, Rose leaves her son, Oscar (Jason Spevack, Hollywoodland), with her baby sis, Norah (Emily Blunt, Dan in Real Life), since it's one of the few jobs Norah doesn't completely screw up. With a passing comment by Mac and the urgent need to earn private-school tuition for Oscar, Rose decides to specialize her cleaning for the recently deceased. Enlisting her layabout sister, the backdoor business Sunshine Cleaning is born.
Did you catch all that? Rose is juggling a hustling father, a troubled sister, a bored child and a married boyfriend all while cleaning houses, working on a realty license and running an unlicensed bio-hazard removal business. Somewhere amid the frenzy she finds time to catch random television movie scenes to find her late mother's walk-on role as a waitress. Her plate is extremely full, which explains, but doesn't excuse, why all these plot strings don't get resolved by the film's end.
The death of their mother had a significant influence on the lives of Rose, Norah and their dad Joe (Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine). I can't say exactly how it affected dear old dad because Joe's story is only partially told. The trauma leads Norah to seek out a kindred spirit in Lynn (Mary Lynn Rasjskub, Mysterious Skin) with surprisingly contrary results. The effects on Rose isn't as apparent; she continually tries to attack her problems with a determinedly cheery outlook, though her facade appears on the verge of shattering with each breath.
The expressive faces of Amy Adams and Emily Blunt lift Sunshine Cleaning out of complete mediocrity. As my wife put it, I'd have hated to have been in drama class competing for lead roles against either of these two. The two actresses convey such convincing emotions that you want to cheer or cry with them, even if you're not sure what you're reacting to. Arkin gives a fun but all too brief turn as Joe. As Winston, the one-armed owner of a cleaning supply shop, Clifton Collins, Jr. (Traffic) is underused though he becomes an increasingly important part of the Lorkowskis' lives.
Even with the ladies cleaning up spattered human remains, director Christine Jeffs is careful to avoid showing anything worse than a few drying pools of blood. Rose's adulterous affair does provide a fair amount of flesh from Adams and Zhan, but the fun stuff is left up to your imagination.
The Money Shot
I give a standing ovation to casting director Avy Kaufman who couldn't have chosen a better cast of actors for the project. There's nothing particularly bad about Sunshine Cleaning; it's just that in this case, great performances in a mediocre story still results in a mediocre story.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009