Sunshine Cleaning (2009)
Directed by: Christine Jeffs
Screenplay by: Megan Holley
Starring: Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Jason Spevack,
Clifton Collins, Jr.
MPAA Rating: R
Run Time: 102 minutes
From the producers of Little Miss Sunshine
(2006), comes Sunshine Cleaning (is there a pattern
here?). Screened in competition at the 2008 Sundance Film
Festival, Sunshine Cleaning, like Little Miss
Sunshine, is an inventive, idiosyncratic and heartfelt
film about an American family overcoming obstacles to find
the paths to its particular dream.
Academy Award nominee® Amy Adams (Doubt, 2008,
Enchanted, 2007) stars as Rose Lorkowski, a former high
school cheerleader captain, now a thirty-something single
mother who works as a maid in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Her slacker sister Nora (Golden Globe® winner Emily Blunt,
The Devil Wears Prada, 2006) still lives at home
with their Dad, Joe (Academy Award winner® Alan Arkin,
Little Miss Sunshine), a salesman who specializes
in ill-fated get rich schemes.
When Rose’s precocious young son, Oscar (well acted
by adorable Jason Spevack, Hollywoodland, 2006),
is ushered out of public school, Rose needs some quick cash
to place him in a more simpatico private school.
So begins Rose and Nora’s big adventure — they
start a recession-proof business — cleaning up crime
scenes. Of course, there are complications, as the sisters
face the detritus of violence, learn to work together and
to explore their sisterly relationship. As the cleaning company
evolves, so does their self-respect and their love and regard
for each other.
The sisters’ novice attempts at their new business are
both funny and sad. They struggle to acclimate to blood, odors
and creepy-crawlies. Though the crime sites are not pretty,
director Christine Jeffs (Sylvia, 2003) has approached
them tastefully, given the circumstances. The emphasis is
not on the blood, but on how the sisters react to it.
Amy Adams captures the essence of Rose Lorkowski. She shows
us Rose’s superficial cheerleading persona as well as
her underlying sadness and depth. Sunshine Cleaning gives
Adams a chance to portray a multi-layered character and she
succeeds admirably in capturing Rose’s complexity.
Initially, Rose views Sunshine Cleaning only as a means of
finding tuition money. Yet as she grows the business (albeit
in fits and starts), her self-esteem grows. She meets Winston
(first-rate Clifton Collins, Jr., Capote, 2005),
who becomes close to the family while helping the sisters
learn the biohazard removal industry with its specialized
equipment and requirements.
With Winston and her family’s support, ultimately Rose
grows stronger and realizes that she can take control of her
The underachieving Nora is cajoled into working with her sister.
And Nora drags her heels, at that. However, she finds herself
engrossed in the lives and deaths of the victims, as she explores
the intimate details of their homes and treasured possessions.
She looks at a spousal murder scene and wonders if the couple
loved each other.
Nora becomes so absorbed in one victim’s life that she
takes it upon herself to notify the next of kin, to surprising
results. Through this journey, she confronts her own family’s
unresolved secrets and skeletons.
Alan Arkin is remarkable as Joe, the hapless Dad with a good
heart. Arkin rarely smiles. As Joe, he sees his family’s
troubles but feels unable to help. At the end of the film,
after a seemingly insurmountable monetary setback for Sunshine
Cleaning, Joe shows himself to be a surprisingly mature and
Although each family member goes through a catharsis in Sunshine
Cleaning, the catharsis is character driven and feels
gradual and natural to the viewer. The film avoids being obvious,
preachy or cloying.
With spot-on performances by an all-star cast and an original,
creative screenplay by Megan Holley, Sunshine Cleaning
is funny, sweet and full of insight. It’s a small film
with a big heart.
Emily S. Mendel
©Emily S. Mendel 2009 All Rights Reserved