Sunshine Cleaning
dir Christine Jeffs
scr Megan Holley
with Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Jason Spevack, Steve Zahn, Clifton Collins Jr, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Paul Dooley, Kevin Chapman, Amy Redford, Judith Jones, Eric Christian Olsen
release US 13.Mar.09, UK 26.Jun.09
08/US 1h31
Sunshine Cleaning
A fine mess: Adams and Blunt

arkin zahn collins
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Sunshine Cleaning With a very funny script and a terrific sense of black humour, this quirky family comedy keeps us laughing even as it gets strongly emotional. And the cast creates some terrifically memorable characters along the way.

Rose (Adams) is a single mother struggling to make ends meet as a cleaner. She's dating a married man (Zahn), and knows she shouldn't. And she wants to put her son Oscar (Spevack) into a better school but needs money for that. So she launches her own crime-scene clean-up business, drafting her slacker sister Norah (Blunt) to work with her. Meanwhile, their father (Arkin) tries to make some cash through a series of get-rich-quick schemes, drafting Oscar as his partner.

With vivid characters and witty dialog, this film catches our imagination from the start, subverting expectations by introducing characters and situations we can't quite predict. Rose's interaction with a one-armed electronics repairman (Collins) has a whiff of rom-com about it, while Norah's stalking of a blood bank worker (Rajskub) hints at a bigger subplot than we see. And then there are Rose's suburban-housewife ex-schoolmates, who spark feelings of inadequacy that Rose is desperate to escape.

Adams gives one of her best-yet performances here, smartly playing Rose's insecurities as yet another obstacle to overcome. She may be a bit of a loser, but her inner strength wins us over, even when she loses her grip. Opposite her, Blunt is a hilarious bundle of free-spirited rebellion and a yearning to do the best she can, even as she terrorises Oscar with yet another scary bedtime story about Lobsterman. Together, they have remarkably realistic sibling chemistry--deep loyalty strained by years of history.

Director Jeffs has a great time with the premise, building a palpable sense of dread every time they enter a new crime scene and gleefully deploying the black comedy without going over the top with the gore. It's a very funny movie, and perhaps a bit too wilfully quirky (especially with the always watchable Arkin as yet another eccentric granddad), but it's also warm and emotional without ever getting sentimental. And it's packed with solid portrayals of fragile people who need both support and someone they can help.

cert 15 themes, strong language, grisliness, sexuality 1.May.09

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall