Indie film retro-review: Sunshine Cleaning (US, 2008)

Directed by Christine Jeffs, written by Megan Holley

The story: Lorkowski family is falling apart. Father Joe Lorkowski (Alan Arkin) is a fly-by-night businessman who sells things from shrimp to dodgy kids’ goodies. Daughter Norah (Emily Blunt) is living with him and has just gotten fired from her job. At the center of it all is eldest daughter Rose (Amy Adams) who is juggling her time with self-esteem busting cleaning jobs, a growing son, Oscar (Jason Spevack) that school officials deem a danger to the school and an even more self-esteem busting relationship with a married lover (Steve Zahn) with a spiteful wife who knows about their affair.

All these come to a head when the school officials catch Oscar licking everything, including his teacher’s leg, and the principal and his teacher inform Norah that they intend to provide specialized attention to him, with medications to put him under control. Norah resolves to pull her son from public school and into private school, prompting her to go into a job that pays more than her cleaning jobs: crime clean-ups. She pulls her sister into the business and as she begins to know the ropes about crime clean-ups, so also gains the confidence to leave her married lover and strike out on her own, whilst her sister also deals with the suicide of their mother.

The verdict:

Two words: Engaging  film.^^

If that were not enough, the fact that it has an impressive cast should give one pause: Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada, My Summer Of Love), Amy Adams (Enchanted, Doubt) and Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine). Plus it has a strong supporting cast in dorky Steve Zahn as the married lover, Clifton Collins playing a one-armed, toy plane loving  shop owner and Mary Lynn Rajskub as the daughter of one of the dead victims that Emily Blunt’s Norah befriends and for a moment has an ambiguous friendship with (heh).

So what makes this engaging? Subtle, understated character development for one, the story that keeps you wanting to know what will happen next, and the acting that makes you emphatize with the characters.

Amy Adams is awesome as Rose. She perfectly combines vulnerability, determination and a sense of purpose and urgency into her character.  She shines most when she interacts with the people who make her feel less than herself – the school officials, her married lover, the uptight former high school friends who laugh at her clean-up business, and these scenes expose her vulnerability and that simplest of goals most people have: acceptance and respect.

She plays fairly well opposite Emily Blunt’s Norah, who projects a laidback, goth-inspired younger sister but who is, as revealed by later scenes to still be haunted by finding that their mother had committed suicide in their bathtub.
Emily Blunt (hotness!)

I like that the dynamic between Rose and Norah is perfectly captured (as anyone who’s had a sib will testify)- the bickering, the one-line put downs (you can be the coolest, most famous dude in the world, but your sib will always know how to pull you down a notch), and the fights. I also like that Norah is such a cool aunt as well, and whatever happens she will babysit and tell funny lobster-man stories that keep her nephew, Oscar awake, most nights.  Alan Arkin is of course, always fun to watch as the clueless washed-up patriarch who just gets on with it even though the world has already moved on and does not need his services anymore. Little Jason Spevack’s Oscar is also a quirky little character who has his heartbreaking moments – as when he talks to the heavens on existential questions via  a radio comm to see if his questions will answered.

Overall, it is a good, solid film. I’d watch it again if I could. ^^

Final thoughts:

Let me just pause and gush over the hotness that is Emily Blunt.

Now I am off to scour the ‘ net for Harper’s Island stuff. ^^

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