THE MACABRE BECOMES FUNNY—WELL ALMOST
by William Gooch
published March 20, 2009
now playing in select theaters
Hollywood sometimes uses unconventional casting and a
non-formulaic storyline to capture a fringe audience not interested in big summer blockbuster movies, star-stuffed romance sagas or mildly
funny comedic diatribes. In Sunshine Cleaning, this approach almost works. Although produced by an
independent film company, Sunshine Cleaning uses the fail-proof formula of casting Hollywood
royalty in roles normally reserved for up-and-coming actors to make the film palatable to fringe and mainstream audiences
On the strength of Academy Award®-winning
actor Alan Arkin and Academy Award®-nominated
actress Amy Adams, Sunshine Cleaning is lifted from otherwise pedestrian commentary on deferred
dreams and entrepreneurship gone awry to a sensitive tale of family devotion, struggle, and loss. Sunshine Cleaning also gives us a look at what happens when people try to change their circumstances but
are encumbered by their own personal demons.
Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) and her sister Norah (Emily Blunt) start a
biohazard removal/crime scene clean-up service in order to raise money for Rose’s son’s private school tuition.
With no prior experience, both sisters struggle to learn the ins and outs of the biohazard clean-up business while dealing with their own
issues of abandonment, disappointment and responsibility. Although Sunshine Cleaning is based on a
morbid subject, director Christine Jeffs cleverly injects humor, nuance, and whimsy into a film that could have easily been weighted down with
boring medical nomenclature and gory crime scenes. Writer Megan Holley has also created characters that are sympathetic but also have great
depth and resilience. We understand why these characters are making bad choices and, while at their very best, they will probably continue to
self-sabotage. Holley explores foibles and flaws as a part of the human condition, something not to be apologized
In Sunshine Cleaning, Amy Adams breaks away from the nascent, naïve characters she portrayed in Enchanted and Doubt. Her Rose is a determined young woman who has
had some hard knocks but is committed to righting the wrongs in her life even if she doesn’t quite know how. Hers is a journey of
self-discovery and acceptance of the family she is inevitably stuck with.
As Norah, Rose’s sister, Emily Blunt gives
a detailed performance that gives us a look at what it feels like to be the most wounded black sheep in a family of wounded black sheep. She
also has the funniest lines in the film. After being chastised by Rose, Norah yells, “My screwing up gives you the biggest woody.” And Alan
Arkin does a brilliant turn as Rose and Norah’s father, a man who continually makes promises that he has difficulty
Although Sunshine Cleaning is uneven at times, director Christine Jeff and writer Megan Holley skillfully make the
macabre amusing. And gives hope that small rays of light can shine even in the darkest corner.