August 31, 2009
This year’s Little Miss Sunshine (2006) is Sunshine Cleaning (2009). Not only did it attempt to follow the same path: debuting at the Sundance Film Festival but it also stars Alan Arkin. However, it also features Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, two up-and-coming actresses with a lot of buzz around them. Sunshine Cleaning did not achieve the same level of success, not even close (although, it did modestly well). While it does feature the same blend of comedy and drama as Little Miss Sunshine, Sunshine Cleaning is not quite as accessible, despite mining the same kind of material: dysfunctional families.
Rose (Adams) is a single mother who works for a housecleaning company. Her sister Norah (Blunt) is unable to hold down a steady job. Rose is the responsible one, trying to make a better life for herself and her son Oscar (Spevack), while Norah is unmotivated and content to coast through life living with her father (Arkin). To further complicate matters, Oscar is deemed to be a disruptive influence at school and Rose is told that he needs either special attention in the form of medication or to attend a private school. She needs a lot of money and fast.
Rose is seeing a guy who is a police detective (Zahn) and he tells her about a lucrative line of work which involves cleaning up crime scenes. After all, someone has to clean up the blood. Rose convinces Norah to go into business with her. The cash is good and Rose hopes to parlay it into real estate classes so that she can get her license. However, their new job takes some getting used to – especially the smell as well as the conflicting attitude of her sister. Rose is an optimistic go-getter while Norah is sarcastic and lacks ambition.
In her short career, Amy Adams has cornered the market on perky characters (see Enchanted) and Emily Blunt on sarcastic ones (see The Devil Wears Prada). Sunshine Cleaning certainly plays to their strengths while trying to develop their characters beyond these stereotypes. Adams and Blunt play flawed characters. Rose is having an affair with a married man who has no intention of leaving his wife and Norah is still haunted by the death of their mother. Over the course of the film, they address these issues while also trying to overcome them.
Adams and Blunt play well off each other as slightly antagonistic sisters that bond over cleaning up crime scenes. They also do a good job with their own subplots. Adams’ character deals with her messy romantic life and her unconventionally smart son. Blunt’s character makes a friend (Rajskub) who helps her deal with her unresolved feelings for her mother who died when she and Rose were kids.
Sunshine Cleaning is about two people trying to improve their lot in life and doing it through unconventional means. Their new profession also shows real ingenuity during these tough economic times. It is also a nicely observed story about sisters and how they deal with the emotional baggage between them. Sunshine Cleaning is one of those finely nuanced character studies that have become strictly the domain of independent cinema because Hollywood is only interested in making impersonal blockbusters that consist mainly of sequels and remakes.
There is an audio commentary by writer Megan Holley and producer Glenn Williamson. Holley wrote the screenplay and entered in it a contest in 2003. Williamson read it wanted to make it into a film. She talks about how the script evolved over time, especially when the setting was changed to Albuquerque. Williamson talks about the nuts and bolts of filmmaking, like casting, location scouting and so on.
“Sunshine Cleaning: A Fresh Look at a Dirty Business” features actual bio-recovery people who talk about what details about their profession the film gets right and what made them laugh, commenting on specific scenes. They show some of the tools of their trade in this fascinating featurette, where carpet cleaning comes under the microscope, so to speak.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.