The “dysfunctional family” check box has been slowly creeping higher on the list of producer’s OK lists for sometime now. So, as the god awful quirk-com and dramedy labels start grotesquely elbowing their way into more and more column space, the only way for films like Sunshine Cleaning, seems to be up.
After holding her own against Steep and Hoffman in Doubt earlier in the year, Amy Adams delivers another great performance as Rose, a single mother holding tightly on to a remedial cleaning job as her own life, her younger token emo sister, Norah (Emily Blunt) and her old friends slowly make it more and more apparent that she is living in the past. She’s even up-keeping an affair with her now married high school sweetheart and policeman, Mac (Steve Zahn).
When Rose’s (you guessed it) cute, misunderstood yet typically bright son, Oscar, is forced out of school for some strange oral behavior she takes Mac’s advice to expand her business into the crime scene cleaning racket and takes sister Norah with her and Sunshine Cleaning is born.
There’s blood, brain, smells and sick but, of course, the two eventually find a strange humanity in the job.
Though the tone of the film is so weirdly uneven (the introduction especially is a terrible wrong footer) Sunshine Cleaning is held together by the two leads. Blunt and Adams feel and look like sisters and their bitter chemistry helps to overshadow some ridiculously obvious back stories about their mothers death, a totally wasted side plot hinting at Norah’s confused sexual identity and a near inconsequential second romantic thread between Rose and one armed cleaning product salesman, Winston.
Alan Arkin manages to shine once again as the girls sharp yet sweet voiced father. His scenes babysitting and schooling Oliver are some of the best moments here but you can’t help but feel that his inclusion and the film’s title have been unnecessarily engineered by the producers to somehow help garner some attention in the wake of their success with Little Miss Sunshine.
Despite that little bit of near patronising audience shepherding and a few sentimental attempts at jerking some unearned tears out of its viewer (The CB radio scenes in particular) Sunshine Cleaning manages to walk the line between feel good and heartfelt fairly well. It’s a well polished comedy/drama but unfortunately one that that you’ll think about no more afterward than you would a good spring clean.