I often don’t review or see “chick flicks” during my ongoing movie consumption. The genre that is defined by girl power moments of clarity through the lens of some failed relationship, family issues, or generally dealing with overly heavy emotional sequences designed to cleanse the soul. I sometimes view them as formulaic and going through the motions of a drama. The woman falls out of a relationship, does some individual soul searching, has a moment of clarity with her best gal friend and then falls back into the arms of the relationship or forges on with her as a strong woman. There are films that make this work and end up being good, but a lot of times it seems shallow and satiates the base part of our enjoyment. It is supposed to build you up and pat you on the back, telling you it all works out with a little crying and comfort. The struggles are internal and doesn’t feel worldly, just superficial. I guess what I am getting at is that today’s film is a different sort of film altogether. Emily Blunt and Amy Adams struggle with what they view as a fractured and failed past, all the while trying hard to forge their future for the better. All this is done from the perspective as a pair of crime scene cleaners. It’s like CSI for Lifetime.
Back in high school, the future looked pretty bright for Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams); not only was she the cheerleading captain, but she was also dating the star quarterback. Flash forward a little over a decade, and Rose is working overtime in hopes of getting her son into a better school. Her sister, Norah (Emily Blunt), is still living at home with their father, Joe (Alan Arkin), a failed salesman whose penchant for jumping into get-rich-quick schemes has left the family without a financial net to fall back on. Rose may be down, but she certainly isn’t out, and when she hatches a plan to launch a crime-scene cleanup business, the money starts rolling in. Sure, cleaning up murder scenes and suicide sites may not be the most glamorous job in the world, but death is a fairly profitable business, and as the phone keeps ringing, Rose and Norah finally begin to experience the closeness of sisterhood that has eluded them all these years while also providing their family with true security. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi
Sunshine Cleaning was a very surprising film for me as the trailer made it out to be this sort of comedy film about an affable pair of crime scene cleaning sisters who muse over life while cleaning up the remains of a life either wasted or cut short. The film is in fact a drama, one that muses about the past lives of the sisters who are trying to figure out what and how it might have gone wrong. Amy Adams plays Rose, a former head cheerleader who dated the captain of the football team, the sort of prototypical high school popularity that sets up the now defunct queen of the story. Now, Rose is a cleaning lady for families, a single mother and trying to hold on to a shred of dignity to at least hold her head up. Accompanying her is Emily Blunt as Norah, the sister who floats through life without any aim or ethics. The two leads of the film are enjoyable and natural to watch. Exuding a genuine sister bond that develops over the scrubbing of brain matter adds to the unique story line that goes above and beyond the usual “chick flick” genre of bonding.
Adams and Blunt really steal the show, both having a beautiful sense of presence and emotional weight that isn’t crying based. They both realize their situations in life, sometimes acknowledging outright in uncontrolled emotion bursts or trying to cover it up through arguments or internalizing their pain. They are estranged and distant, both not really knowing what lies ahead of them, but both knowing that they are in need of one another, the sort of partner in crime scenario that has them being partners in crime clean ups. The strengths of the characters come through the interactions they have with the crime scenes they clean up. Director Christine Jeffs shows us the male side of crime cleaning, more jokey and gallows humor that helps them become jaded to idea of cleaning up after dead people. It’s a fine coping mechanism they have, easily letting them detach themselves from personal tragedy they just mopped up. Blunt and Adams take the sort of funeral care with a sense of personal urgency, often realizing that their lives could be much worse than those that were at the end of their ropes. Whether suicide, murder, or accident, each scene allows them to cleanse not only the death setting, but also clean up a bit of themselves. It allows them to figure out how to gain a little bit of their lives back after picking up the fragments of someone else’s life.
It’s a wonderful movie, in as a much as watching a pair of sisters vacuum and power scrub blood from recently deceased persons home can be wonderful. The metaphorical connections the sisters have with the deceased people they clean up after isn’t smashed over your head, rather the connection is done so with Adams and Blunt sharing conversations about their lives while they pick up the pieces of the dead. It’s a nice notion, that you can rebuild your life even in the worst time of your life. It just takes that little catalyst and spark to get them to see that it does get better in the end. If it doesn’t, well they are catching a glimpse of what their lives could be like. Often touching and humorous, Sunshine Cleaning is really the the most honest and heartfelt film about persevering and gaining back a bit of pride in everything you do. Adams really makes this film amazing and memorable, even if the overall film falls into the trappings of a paint-by-numbers indie flick. It’s the heart and characters that propel the story and makes cleansing your soul a little more literal when you are watching people clean up after the dead.
*images via RottenTomatoes