Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Sunshine Cleaning Movie Review

I'm kind of a sucker for stories about underdogs and those who strive to make their lives better in spite of circumstances and poor decisions in the past. I'm sure most people do, actually. It gives us a kind of optimism and hope for our lives. Sunshine Cleaning (2008) is one such story that goes about that sort of theme in a unique way; by having the protagonists clean up after dead bodies.
Back in high school, the future looked pretty bright for Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams); not only was she the cheerleading captain, but she was also dating the star quarterback. Flash forward a little over a decade, and Rose is working overtime in hopes of getting her son into a better school. Her sister, Norah (Emily Blunt), is still living at home with their father, Joe (Alan Arkin), a failed salesman whose penchant for jumping into get-rich-quick schemes has left the family without a financial net to fall back on. Rose may be down, but she certainly isn't out, and when she hatches a plan to launch a crime-scene cleanup business, the money starts rolling in. Sure, cleaning up murder scenes and suicide sites may not be the most glamorous job in the world, but death is a fairly profitable business, and as the phone keeps ringing, Rose and Norah finally begin to experience the closeness of sisterhood that has eluded them all these years while also providing their family with true security.
Sunshine Cleaning is a comedy drama that is full of tense emotional states, a somewhat dark comedy, with some all too real life problems. It's more sobering than funny; there is a great deal of death involved in the movie, and it gives full weight to the impact of death without actually showing us grisly crime scenes. The unpleasant subjects of suicide and murder permeates the movie, but we don't actually see anyone die. We see just the crime scenes after the fact, and one incident of a man about to do himself in, but the scene changes before anything graphic can be shown. Even scenes where Rose and Norah are cleaning up the mess aren't really graphic.
It doesn't sound like pleasant movie to watch, but it features some interesting character developments in both women as they remove blood and body fluids and help console the individuals affected by the death of their loved ones. In an excellent scene, Rose is explaining her business to old high school cohorts, it dawns on her what kind of an impact she's having on other people. Rose explains, "We come into people's lives when they have experienced something profound - and sad. And they've lost somebody, you know? And um, the circumstances, they're always different. But that's the same. And we help. In some small way we, um, we help." Sunshine Cleaning is about connecting with people and how that makes all the awful experiences and circumstances in life more bearable. I genuinely love that theme and can relate to it.
Sunshine Cleaning is not without its flaws. It has a considerable "indie film" vibe; as if too much time was spent developing the characters and plot to the point that they somehow feel sterile and without believable imperfections. It also has kind of an run-of-the-mill bitter sweetness that a lot of indie films have; as if carefully measured amounts of sad drama and quirkiness were put into the prescribed "indie film recipe" so to speak.
The best reason to watch Sunshine Cleaning is to see Amy Adams in action. She's an outstanding actress and she does a exceptional job here. Adams sweeps through a wide array of emotions; the character struggles to remain optimistic and enthusiastic while trying to suppress her own self-anger and it makes her character and her role much more interesting. Most everyone did a good job with their acting, but Amy Adams really shines above the rest in this movie.
Sunshine Cleaning was pretty good. I loved the actors; they did a great job. I loved the theme; I thought the quirky way of going about interpersonal connection via a bio hazard removal/cleaning service was highly interesting. There's some profanity in it, but it's usually pertinent to the despair and emotional tension of the scene. I'll bet that if the one sex scene and only a couple of F-bombs had been left out Sunshine Cleaning would have easily had a PG-13 rating. I didn't feel that the few things that gave it a higher rating were all that necessary. I enjoyed the movie for what it was, but I felt that other movies achieved the same themes a little bit better. I doubt I'll bother seeing it again, but if you can tolerate overtly "indie films," it's not a bad selection for an indie-comedy-drama.

If you could have any kind of weird job (regardless of pay) what would it be? I'd probably be an old-timey soda jerk! Comment below and tell me about your odd job!


  1. Sounds like an interesting movie. Curious, what other films have you found with the same themes?

    I'd definitely be a taxi driver. I like navigating and meeting new people.

    1. Other movies I've seen about connecting with people includes Little Miss Sunshine* , Pay it Forward, ParaNorman*, and even Wreck-It Ralph* to a degree. Movies that feature "Enjoy the little things" sort of theme include Julie & Julia*, The Pursuit of Happyness, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Clound Atlas* and A Single Man. There are others but those are the ones I thought of off the top of my head.
      I put asterisks by the titles I have reviewed here on my blog, you can look them up in alphabetical order on that middle "Reviews" tab in the navigation bar.
      Thanks for your comments!