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Sunshine Cleaning

Director: Christine Jeffs
Cast: Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, and Steve Zahn

(US DVD: 25 Aug 2009)

Review [13.Mar.2009]

Amy Adams is truly magnificent in the charming Sunshine Cleaning, a film that… yada, yada, yada. Let’s be honest. You know the drill by now. If you honestly thought Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin or any of the other cast members in this pseudo-indie actors’ picture would turn in anything less than awards-worthy performances, then you haven’t been following the entertainment industry for the last two years (a quick refresher: Adams is the new Julia Roberts, Blunt is the rising star, and Arkin is the savvy veteran who finally got his due from the Academy).


So if all you’re yearning for is a well-acted, slightly quirky dramedy, then look no further. If you want something truly unique and surprising, well, you’ll have to wait until Fall releases.


Director Christine Jeffs and writer Megan Holley tell the tale of Rose (Adams), a former high school cheerleader whose life turned out a little differently than expected. She’s single, has a kid, and is in the middle of a lengthy affair with her now married,  high school boyfriend.


But she’s working as a company maid, an occupation that adequately prepared her for—here comes the slightly quirky part—a crime scene clean-up… well, maid. She decides to take the leap into the somewhat disgusting business of cleaning up after suicides, murders, and those deceased of natural causes with the help of her off-kilter sister (Blunt). Her dad (Arkin) helps by taking care of the kid while his daughters are off doing the dirty work, but he’s dealing with his own issues pertaining to the story’s dark, third-act twist.


Though all of this may seem somewhat intriguing on the surface, the only aspect that makes Sunshine Cleaning passably entertaining is the acting. I keep coming back to it for a reason, after all.  Adams plays sweet and sad equally well, and while her turn may not be Oscar-baiting in its exuberance, it’s truly touching in its tenderness.


Blunt, however, is the real stand-out.  Sure, she was amusing in The Devil Wears Prada, but here she steps up both her games. Funny one second and intensely engaging the next, Blunt forces you to see the film as more than just Rose’s story – it’s Norah’s, as well.


But there, in the story itself, is where Sunshine Cleaning misses a spot. The overall arc is adequate only in its creation of circumstances for the actors to excel. We’ve seen this belated-coming-of-age-tale before, and while the final act reveals a slight diversion from cliché, it also leaves out two big holes (including an unfinished romance and a life-changing decision that may be read as a simple vacation).


The main issue dragging down Sunshine Cleaning is that it’s not big enough. Everything works on a minute scale that can sometimes prove enthralling (for example, Lost in Translation), but mostly ends up frustrating in its missed stab at greatness (Garden State).


Almost every plotline could have benefitted from just a slight bump up in drama. For example, Mac (Zahn) could have left his wife for Rose, or better yet, Rose could have exposed him for an adulterous leach right in front of his spouse. Instead, the relationship mainly serves only to provide Rose with an idea for her new job.


Granted, the job leads to the aforementioned self-discovery, but the film as whole could have been so much more. There’s nothing wrong with avoiding the emotional extremes, but Sunshine Cleaning aims too low to convincingly connect with its viewers.


The other formal elements are equally okay. Jeffs’ direction is pretty much point-and-shoot, but the visuals aren’t unappealing. The soundtrack is above average, but far from memorable. In a sea of ordinary, the thespians are the only bright spots.


And while one might think the extras on this single-disc release would feature said actors, they fail to even give them their just five-minute spotlight. What we get instead are previews, a director’s commentary, and a dull 11-minute feature on real-life crime-scene cleaners. None of the information is pertinent or even beneficial (if you were wondering how to actually clean-up after the dead, look elsewhere), leaving the film itself as the sole reason to rent or buy.


Unfortunately, Sunshine Cleaning is merely an easily digested bit of springtime movie going, and not the Oscar-winning juggernaut it could have been with just a little more drama.

Rating:

Extras rating:

Ben Travers is an awards season analyst and prognosticator with a devout interest in all things film & TV. Mr. Travers lives in Los Angeles as an experienced writer and filmmaker with an extensive portfolio of coverage, including thorough reporting on the Academy Awards, weekly box office reports, and more reviews written than will ever be read. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa with degrees in both journalism and cinema.


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13 Mar 2009
Despite occasional nuances, we can see from a long way off where Sunshine Cleaning is headed.
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