MovieMantz Review: ‘Sunshine Cleaning'

"Adams and Blunt Keep it Clean"

"Sunshine Cleaning"
Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin
Directed by Christine Jeffs

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When the offbeat and oddly charming "Sunshine Cleaning" was first screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2008 — yes, that was last year — the prospect of cleaning up blood, guts and bone chunks from a former crime scene seemed like the kind of dreary job offer that everyone could refuse.

Well, times have changed, and in a very big way. These days, people would kill for a job like that — or any job, for that matter, that would help them pay the bills. Though it was filmed long before the economic meltdown, "Sunshine Cleaning" has the unfortunate task of being in the right place at the right time.


Not that it's a great movie, but thanks to endearing performances by Oscar-nominees Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, it's certainly a good one. Beyond that, "Sunshine Cleaning" is bound to draw comparisons to another far-superior Sundance pickup that also has the word "Sunshine" in the title.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and for estranged sisters Rose (Adams) and Norah (Blunt), times are pretty desperate. Rose is a single mother who lacks the financial resources to put her precocious son in a better school, while Norah lacks the motivation to do, well, just about anything.

But when Mac (Steve Zahn) — a married cop with whom Rose is having an affair — suggests that she can make good money in biohazard removal, she and Norah start their own crime scene clean-up business. It doesn't take long for their new venture to shine, but can they mop up the issues staining their own messy relationship? It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.

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"Sunshine Cleaning" doesn't just cover the same ground as 2006's "Little Miss Sunshine," but it does so in many of the same ways. Both films feature the same producers, the same location (Albuquerque, NM), a dysfunctional family, an irascible grandpa (played by Alan Arkin), and even a beat-up van.

But where "Little Miss Sunshine" was a fully realized piece of mainstream entertainment, "Sunshine Cleaning" is a more uneven, but still profound film in which Adams and Blunt are perfectly cast as bickering, vulnerable sisters. The subplots featuring Alan Arkin and Steve Zahn aren't as developed, but the actors are still very good in their roles.

As Rose and Norah make their way from one gross crime scene to the next — and, in effect, from paycheck to paycheck — moviegoers who still have jobs will probably think twice before they complain about them again. The irony is that in the aftermath of death, Rose and Norah soon find a new lease on life — and on their lives together as sisters who are lucky to have each other.

Verdict: SEE IT!

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