Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 22 April 2009
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
Someone’s got to clean up the aftermath of a crime scene, right? You know, all that blood, brain matter, spontaneous bowel/bladder release, decaying flesh smell, stained mattresses, walls and carpets decorated with very real sudden death. Someone’s got to do it.
Someone’s got to haul away the maggots, and other biohazards that mandate special classes and certification, face masks and industrial strength disinfectant. But the money’s good and single mom Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) wants to put her “unique” son in a private school.
The former head cheerleader has watched life bestow her former high school classmates with wealth and accomplishment, while she is hired out to clean their homes. Her married boyfriend, Mac (Steve Zahn) once a teenage star quarterback, now a detective, turns her onto the profitable (albeit morbid) business opportunity.
Slacker sister Norah (Emily Blunt) can’t hold a job and lives with their father Joe (Alan Arkin), a perpetual get-rich-quick schemer. Oscar (Jason Spevack) is Rose’s square peg son who keeps getting into trouble at school and in general; he’s rambunctious and odd and misunderstood.
The unraveling family malfunctions, each in their own way. Rose holds out hope that her boyfriend will leave his wife, who knows about their affair, but chooses to keep getting pregnant. Norah’s existence is a series of odd jobs she can’t seem to keep. Joe has an entrepreneurial spirit that often leads to costly, spectacular failures. Oscar has a hard time in controlled environments, like school, stores, public places, and anywhere he happens to be.
It’s Rose who must move her odd family unit forward, through the dirty work of death and decay, cleaning fluids and bodily fluids, in an attempt to derail the disappointments, disasters and ordinary routines that have left them stuck in patterns of dysfunction and stagnation. She buys a van and has business cards printed up touting her as owner of Sunshine Cleaning, a proprietary business. Now she can attend a baby shower as an entrepreneur instead of a maid. That’s important.
Suicide, oblivion and the sadness of once-cherished possessions left behind to be trashed fuel Norah’s attempts to reunite a daughter with her mother’s memory, summoning up only bitter resentment from the woman. Despite this, the crime scene biz gives both girls a sense of accomplishment as they beat out more established cleanup services for lucrative jobs.
One-armed hardware store owner Winston (Clifton Collins, Jr.) is understanding and kind, just the type of non-judgmental personality that Rose needs in her life. An instant advisor/mentor, he provides assistance for the struggling single mom, advising her on her fledgling business and babysitting her challenging son with a gentle, ready smile and not one ounce of self-pity.
Meanwhile Joe is in possession of many pounds of rapidly decomposing shrimp (bought to unload at bargain prices to local restaurant owners) that make the family home nearly unlivable from the stench – a physical reminder of yet another failed venture.
When an expensive disaster strikes Sunshine Cleaning, thanks to Norah’s clumsy inattentiveness, Rose must face the abrupt dissolution of all she’s worked for until an unexpected turn of events sets the Lorkowski family on a new path.
Amy Adams is an accomplished dramatic actress who should stick to serious roles and eschew the hair-brained, wide-eyed ingénue shtick which launched her, but threatens to typecast her. She has an extensive range and films like this, and previously, Doubt, allow her to showcase it. Emily Blunt brings a sympathetic core to Norah, expanding her seemingly selfish persona to reveal a caring but often misguided individual whose foibles and perpetual screw-ups seem to resonate with audience recognition. Everyone knows someone like this, and some even ARE someone like this.
Alan Arkin is making a career of appearing as a patriarch in indie films with Sunshine in the title. Joe is quirky as required and as clueless as his daughters, figuratively bumping into the walls of life as if he doesn’t see them. When he does, his forehead is already gashed. Clifton Collins, Jr. generates enough interest in his character portrayal to make you wish he had more screen time. Steve Zahn’s Mac inspires only disappointment and infidelity as a law man who makes his own ethical rules.
Director Christine Jeffs (Sylvia) sets up situations deftly then just seems to let them drift away without closure or resolution; much like real life, but a bit disconcerting in the tidy land of storyline. Still, Sunshine Cleaning is able to engage you and make you invested enough in the characters to care about where they end up.
The 2008 Sundance Film Festival entry heads down various, unpredictable tributaries that turn frequently into vague vanishing streams. The film gathers momentum and then dissipates it, either wrapping it up too abruptly or too loosely. We know a “change gonna come” as the Sam Cooke song asserts. Sunshine Cleaning just ends before we get to see it.
Still it’s an enjoyable ride in an oversized van full of industrial strength cleaning fluid and rubber gloves. After all, real life rarely offers tidy resolutions either. So we’ll forgive Sunshine Cleaning for being a bit of a clouded-over gem. Its sparkle still manages to break through.