Thursday, 12 September 2019

Movie Review: Sunshine Cleaning (2008)


A quirky dramedy, Sunshine Cleaning delves into the lives of working class America through the story of two sisters struggling to get by, and finds good intentions mixing with bad decisions.

In Albuquerque, single mom Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) works hard as a maid while raising her eight year old son Oskar, and carries on an affair with police detective Mac (Steve Zahn). In high school she was the cheerleading team captain and he was the star quarterback, but Mac chose to marry someone else and Rose's life never recovered. Meanwhile, her younger sister Norah (Emily Blunt) cannot hold a job, and has not yet processed the sudden death of Rose and Norah's mother. Their father Joe (Alan Arkin) is kindly but always in pursuit of the next misguided business venture.

When Rose has to raise money to place Oskar in private school, Mac suggests she gets into the lucrative biohazard cleaning business, mopping up body fluids at scenes of accidents, crimes and suicides. Rose drags Norah into the business she calls Sunshine Cleaning. Gradually they learn the proper procedures with help from supply store owner Winston (Clifton Collins Jr.). Meanwhile Norah finds artefacts left behind by a suicide victim, and goes looking for the woman's daughter Lynn (Mary Lynn Rajskub), a blood bank technician.

Striking the perfect chord between poignant and peculiar, Sunshine Cleaning is a non-judgmental view of lives sidelined on the difficult side of the tracks. Elegantly written by Megan Holley and directed with understated charm by Christine Jeffs, the film avoids emotional high and lows, instead achieving a steady and internally consistent ascent towards messy personal growth.

Holley starts from a place of deep loss for all her characters: Rose lost her high school sweetheart to another woman, Norah never got past the childhood trauma of losing her mother, and Joe lost his wife a long time ago. Winston has lost an arm in suitably unexplained circumstances, and Lynn lost her mother but, as far as Norah can tell, may not even know it.

For Rose, Norah and Joe the losses create internal barriers and promote self-defeating actions such as Rose's affair, Norah's could-care-less attitude, and Joe's pursuit of futile middleman deals. The film then charts an enjoyable, unlikely and bumpy path towards self-betterment built on the icky premise of cleaning up splattered blood and dead body fluids. Rarely has a film about mopping up the messes of the past found such an apt metaphor.

The sisters' journey towards confronting their internal demons and emotionally relocating to a better place is far from smooth sailing. Rose has to juggle her burgeoning new business with confronting her continued dependency on Mac caring for an out-of-school Oskar. Without quite knowing why, Norah pursues Lynn in a quest that softly veers into unexpected territory. And while Joe does his best to support his daughters, his wacky business ventures and propensity for overpromising and under-delivering cause mounting frustration.

Sunshine Cleaning enjoys sparkling performances from two of the finest actresses of their generation. Amy Adams and Emily Blunt humanize Rose and Norah and stay true to their flawed origins, grounding the film in the rough and tumble world of every two forward steps being met with at least one misstep. With the right tools every stain can be cleaned or disposed of, but sometimes the mess can be inadvertently made bigger before the cleanup begins.






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