Sunshine Cleaning: Removing Bloodstains Isn’t The Worst Problem a Woman Can Have

Sunshine Cleaning has all the trappings of your average quirky indie comedy. A plot revolving around a dark subject matter, a struggling family composed of an optimist, a pessimist, an unusual child and a wacky grandpa, and a heartwarming ending. Sound like Little Miss Sunshine? Although they share the same producers, I found this movie to be less precocious, more three-dimensional– in short, it actually seemed to resemble real life rather than the heightened quirky life of most depressed indie families. The ensemble of performers, led by the infallible Amy Adams, elevates the proceedings, and in a cinematic era where women are always written so poorly, here finally is a film filled with female characters that aren’t cartoons portrayed by Jennifer Garner or Kate Hudson, but REAL women. Ladies, there’s not much at the cineplex for you right now– go check this one out.

Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) looks in the mirror every morning and tries to convince herself she’s a winner. It’s an uphill battle: she works for a lousy maid service, her son is constantly in trouble at school, her dad (Alan Arkin) invests in crackpot get-rich-quick schemes, and her sister Norah (Emily Blunt) refuses to grow up. On top of that, her love life is going nowhere, thanks mainly in part to her feelings for Mac (Steve Zahn), her former high school boyfriend, now married to someone else. That doesn’t stop them from having sex regularly though. Mac, a police officer, informs Rose that the maid service who cleans up after violent deaths make boatloads of money. Since her son has been expelled and needs to be enrolled in a private school, Rose and Norah form Sunshine Cleaning, a new company dedicated to this type of maid service. “It’s a growth industry,” Rose informs everyone. With the help of Winston (Clifton Collins Jr.,), a one-armed man who runs a janitorial supply shop, they get their business off the ground– but Rose’s personal life isn’t improving, and Norah starts to have ethical dilemmas about the job, especially after cleaning the house of one woman whose daughter (Mary Lynn Rajskub) may not know of her fate.

As I said, this is a movie about women for women by women. The director, Christine Jeffs, gives the film a particularly feminine feel, even when handling the violent crime scenes. As a man, this female perspective never bothered me– in fact, it made me feel more for the characters, since they had everyday woman issues that I suppose I don’t have to deal with in the same way. It made me put myself into the opposite gender’s shoes. While some of the scenes of female anguish are fairly cliched (including one scene that seems so ripped from Footloose that I’d be surprised if it wasn’t meant to be some sort of homage), some work quite well, largely the ones containing the acting of Amy Adams. She contains the X-factor that most actresses would kill for: she is instantly likable, regardless of the scenario. When her character cries, you can’t help but get misty, and it’s not necessarily the story or the writing, but you just don’t want to see Amy Adams sad. She plays a far gloomier character here than we’re used to seeing her play, but her determination shines through. It’s a terrific performance.

Another actor who I’d like to give special notice to is Clifton Collins Jr. I honestly couldn’t remember where I knew him from as I watched his mysterious, charismatic portrayal– I remember thinking in the theater, “Where did they find this terrific one-armed actor?” It turns out I’ve seen him in a number of roles, most notably in the second to last season of The Shield, and as one of the killers the book In Cold Blood is written about in the film Capote. Each time I’ve seen him, it’s been a unique experience– he never plays the same role twice. Rest assured I will not be overlooking him any longer. The other actors are fine: Blunt’s part is the least well- written, but she does what she can, and Alan Arkin lends his particular flavor to the kooky grandpa, a role that he now has locked down for the remainder of his life.

What I liked most about the film was the way in which it surprised me, not necessarily in the outcomes which remain fairly predictable, but in its execution. When the car salesman tells the little boy the CB radio sends his voice to heaven, you know he’s going to try to speak to his dead grandmother… but the movie does not follow the route you predict it will to get there. There’s also a running bit about TV movies with waitresses in them that ends up paying off at an unexpected moment that becomes a moment of startling emotional impact. There are still its fair share of quirky indie flick cliches, and there’s a 3rd act conflict that never really is in any jeopardy of being resolved, but the execution is surefooted and the performances are spot-on. Final note: I saw a preview for a movie the other day where Sandra Bullock is a lady boss who forces her assistant Ryan Reynolds to marry her in order to keep her from being deported. These are the types of movies women are forced to look forward to thanks to the lack of creativity in studio films for women. Here is a movie by women that would actually generate real thought and real emotion for even more than its target audience.

~ by russellhainline on April 12, 2009.

2 Responses to “Sunshine Cleaning: Removing Bloodstains Isn’t The Worst Problem a Woman Can Have”

  1. Ya, I don’t think it as a worst problem, My hubby usually clean it for me.

  2. […] 9. Naturi Naughton- Notorious 8. Lily Cole- The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus 7. Emily Blunt- Sunshine Cleaning 6. Marion Cotillard- Nine 5. Rinko Kikuchi- The Brothers Bloom 4. Anna Kendrick- Up in the Air 3. […]

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