Rated R for language, disturbing images, some sexuality and drug use, 95 minutes
"Sunshine Cleaning" is a dark, familiar dramedy with heart
"Sunshine Cleaning" is a cheerfully dark dramedy that you've seen before. The producers of "Sunshine Cleaning" also made "Little Miss Sunshine," and the comparisons between the two seem a little eerie: family dysfunction, a precocious child, a grumpy grandpa and even a clunky old van. "Sunshine Cleaning," much like that earlier film, has a great cast in a well-acted but shallow film about two underachieving sisters who start a bio-hazard cleaning company. Not everything works well and it lacks a resonance that "Little Miss Sunshine" did, but the cast is charming and there are some heartfelt, poignant moments sprinkled throughout.
Amy Adams ("Doubt") is Rose Lorkowski, a single mom in Albuquerque, New Mexico who cleans houses to pay the bills and is having an affair with her now married high school sweetheart Mac (Steve Zahn), also a detective on the Albuquerque police force. Emily Blunt ("The Devil Wears Prada") is Rose's younger, unreliable and single sister Norah, who can't hold a job and still lives with her father - the cranky, widowed Joe (Alan Arkin).
Rose and Norah start their own cleaning business, Sunshine Cleaning, and they specialize in biohazard cleanup, cleaning up bloody crime scene messes for the police department and insurance companies. They buy a van, buy some special equipment and become certified and quickly start earning decent. Meanwhile, Rose's personal life is seemingly in shambles as Mac refuses to leave his wife and her son Oscar (Jason Spevack) experiences problems in school, while her own father harbors his own business plans. Rose's personal life and family dysfunction threaten to ruin her business and the success she craves.
"Sunshine Cleaning" is a nice, restrained dark comedy with some fun moments but shallow characters and an uneven, choppy story. The highlight of the film is the warm chemistry shared by Adams and Blunt, two young rising stars in Hollywood who are convincing as sisters. Adams keeps getting better and better with each film she's in and has a graceful charm as the sensible Rose, while Blunt has colorful moments as the unreliable Norah.
Arkin, Oscar winner for "Little Miss Sunshine," chews on the scenery as grandpa and the normally funny Zahn has little to do, while other lesser-known character actors nearly steal the movie. Mary Lynn Rajskub of TV's "24" shines in a very small role as a young lady that Norah shares a connection with, while the young, bright-eyed Spevack gives a smart, likable performance as Oscar. Also memorable is Clifton Collins, Jr. as a one-armed store owner who takes a liking to Rose and Oscar.
There's a splattering of blood (but no dead bodies) here and there to help "Sunshine" give it a darker edge than normal, though it skims the surface with some central issues involving death, career choices and self-confidence. The most moving scene has Adams sitting with an elderly woman who just lost her husband to suicide, along with an emotional moment near the end involving the girls deceased mother. Also a memorable moment: Norah giving Oscar an inappropriate birthday gift.
"Sunshine Cleaning" could've used more experienced touches than a director like Christine Jeffs ("Sylvia") or novice writer Megan Holley, who has trouble with character development and presenting a consistent narrative flow (characters come and go before we get to really know them). The ending is touching but predictable and may leave some wanting more.
There are some genuinely fun, poignant moments in "Sunshine Cleaning" and it has its heart in the right place. Overall, "Sunshine Cleaning" is an enjoyable film that should please most audiences with the warm Adams-Blunt chemistry.