Tulsa TV Memories      

Sunshine Cleaning poster

"Sunshine Cleaning"
Review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say, and Amy Adams's eyes and her facial expressions are worth, at least, two thousand. That fact is abundantly apparent in "Sunshine Cleaning." It's a new movie directed by Christine Jeffs ("Sylvia," 2003), written by Megan Holly. But don't assume from that it's a chick flick. You'd be more accurate calling it a woman's film about a family.

Family movies about ordinary people are the best ones. Because? Well, ordinary people are the most interesting people of all, and family ties are the deepest and most common traits we earthling share, whatever social class. "Sunshine Cleaning" tells the story of the Lorkowskis: your ordinary, dysfunctional family that can't seem to win for losing.

Two single women (Amy Adams, as Rose and Emily Blunt, as Nora) are sisters. Rose (without benefit of clergy) is the mother of an 8-year-old boy (Jason Spevack as Oscar) who's too curious for his own good, as well as others; and Nora is a moody, can't-keep-a-job kind of gal who's clearly adrift. The sisters' dad (Alan Arkin as Joe) is a widower. Joe appreciates himself as quite the entrepreneur. Fudging the truth every now and then is all in a day's work for Joe. But he's a neat grandpa to Oscar. Rose is a great mommy, too. And Nora, uh, well, she's a pretty good aunt in her own sort of way. The sisters' mother committed suicide when they were little.

Emily Blunt and Amy Adams
Emily Blunt and Amy Adams

Rose cleans houses for a living as the economy is making a big sucking sound in Albuquerque. She's got too much month left by the time her bank account requires another infusion. Her lover, a plainclothes cop (Steve Zahn as Mac), suggests she go into the business of cleaning up crime scenes and death scenes as well as certain kinds of biohazard spills. He claims it's lucrative, if not exactly the most glamorous gig she could get. You know, like being in the cast of "CSI: Miami."

Since Mac's a cop, he has connections. He wants to placate Rose as much as possible to insure he'll continue reaping the reward of those weekly, one-on-one "séances" with her at the motel. He's certainly not going to split with his wife.

Rose brings Nora into her Sunshine Cleaning business. After some getting-used-to with the grisly part of the job, the gals begin to get the hang of it and the dough begins to flow. Meanwhile, Joe is off working on trying to sell shrimp at extra low prices and Oscar is causing trouble at school by licking people, including his teacher. The licking thing is inspired by something Aunt Nora told him in a bedtime story. Aunt Nora may be more of a problem child than Oscar.

Emily Blunt is really fine as Nora, particularly so when she and a girlfriend head for the boonies to do a little "trestling" at the local railroad track. I don't want to give away this scene, but seeing it is worth the price of admission. Eventually, it should wind up on YouTube.

Alas, the not-winning-for-losing thing continues dogging the Lorkowski family. While Joe's unsold shrimp begin to raise a stink and Rose is off to a baby shower being thrown for a former high school chum, who's now a Republican, Nora precipitates a dreadful accident at the home of Sunshine Cleaning's current but deceased client.

Something you don't have to worry about is: "Sunshine Cleaning" being too bloody or grisly. Most of it's implied or couched in humor.

Something you do have worry about is: "Cleaning" being too touching and human from time to time: the trestling scene; another that shows Rose sitting with a recently widowed elderly woman before the Sunshine Sisters clean up what's happened; and one more when both sisters just happen to see their mother on TV.

Anyone who's followed Amy Adams's work through several recent, excellent films knows she's one of the busiest and best young actors in movies. She just missed getting an Oscar last month for her role as the younger nun in "Doubt" with Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Jason Spevack and Amy Adams
Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Jason Spevack and Amy Adams

What can anyone say about the 75-year-old Alan Arkin? (I'll not forget him in 1970 as Yossarian in "Catch-22") He won his 3rd Oscar for a recent role in "Little Miss Sunshine" (2006), which, like "Sunshine Cleaning," was produced by the same people: Jeb Brody, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub and Glenn Williamson. The budget for "Sunshine Cleaning"? A paltry five mil. Amazing what a script can do for a movie.

Arkin's Joe in "Cleaning" is only a tick or two from the Edwin he played in "Miss Sunshine." Not only that but both films look as if the same graphics guy did the posters. Each has the same look and tone. I can just see these features running as a double bill on cable in the future. Likely, they won't be broadcast on TV because each is too real and homey to be appreciated by the average focus group moviegoer.

"Sunshine Cleaning" initiates a few threads that don't quite come to a resolution, but that doesn't get in the way of your enjoying the characters and the story. A couple of romances seem about to bubble up just as we get a rather abrupt but satisfying ending for this contemporary family that has a way of showing its love and loyalty in strange and, sometimes, sunny ways.

"Sunshine Cleaning" official site.

Opens at the AMC Southroads 20 on 3/27.

Check Yahoo Movies-Tulsa  for theaters & times.

Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net.

Copyright © 2009, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

Chew's Reviews    Who is Gary Chew?    Main page