Oddly whimsical for a dark foray into the humorous side of crime-scene clean-up, Sunshine Cleaning amusingly examines the lives of two sisters who attempt to mend the hurt in their personal lives while mopping up the dismal outcomes of others’ failed resolutions. Contrasting the sisters’ troubles and reconciliation over their mother’s tragic death with their desire to find a connection within the “clients” of their peculiar profession, the film succeeds in presenting an engagingly naturalistic drama primarily thanks to some enchanting acting from Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, and the always scene-stealing Alan Arkin channeling his performance from another “Sunshine.”
Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) finds herself a single mother attempting to support her son Oscar (Jason Spevack) and her unreliable sister Norah (Emily Blunt) while working a mundane job as a maid. Once the head cheerleader in school with plenty of prospects, Rose now has little to show for her years, and while she still sees the former lead football player (Steve Zahn), it is little more than a despondent affair. When Oscar is expelled from public school, Rose takes a job as a bio-hazard crime-scene cleaner to help pay for a private education, and brings Norah on to help in her steadily growing business. As the sisters work to clean up the messes left behind by the chaotic lives of others, they must learn to reconcile their own differences and overcome a troubled past if they hope to prosper in their newfound venture.
Sunshine Cleaning is a deceptively simple slice-of-dysfunctional-life comedy that follows a pattern reminiscent of Five Easy Pieces mixed with Little Miss Sunshine. The characters themselves embody various stereotypes of maladjusted individuals, each graced with enough redeeming qualities that they’re relatable instead of contemptible – which is often the opposite in painfully dark comedies. Occasionally the film delves into disturbing complications that seem oddly superfluous, but adds depth to the subplots – reflecting the messiness of life, in the anatomy of a metaphorical crime scene waiting to be cleaned up.
Once again Amy Adams’ performance is teary-eyed and sensational, demonstrating her maturity, acting chops and surprising range of emotions that don’t seem initially possible with her pleasantly youthful face. Supporting roles by Emily Blunt and Alan Arkin are also noteworthy; Norah creates the missing piece to Rose’s overwhelming feelings of responsibility, and their father steals the show with alternating comic relief and desperation for making ends meet. Their performances are genuine and affecting and bring light to a story that is realistically melancholy but unquestionably entertaining.