I went into this movie with incredibly high expectations and can proudly say that those expectations were exceeded. Sunshine Cleaning, which was produced by the independent film company Big Beach, had the same enigmatic spark as the companies’ previous projects which included, but were not limited to SherryBaby (the reason I began to like Maggie Gyllenhaal), and Little Miss Sunshine.
The film’s opening scene is a powerful one to say the least. A man sitting in his car (a non-plot related character) places a shot gun shell in his pocket and enters a sporting goods store. He then proceeds to ask to see a shotgun and loads it when the clerk is not looking. He kills himself in the store. Death is a very prominent theme in the film as a whole (similar to Little Miss Sunshine).
To say that one could find joy and happiness in a film about a single mother running a crime scene cleanup business (similar to Merry Maids only with more bodily fluids), while at the same time carrying on a long term love affair with her married high school sweetheart (Steve Zahn) is a little shocking in and of itself. But that is exactly what happenes. Sure there was the fair amount of morbid humor, gore and sadness (one would expect this given the film’s premise), but there is something very endearing about its characters.
I make the prediction that Emily Blunt (best known for The Devil Wears Prada and My Summer of Love) will come away from this film with at least a best supporting actress nomination. She was by far the scene stealer that made this movie. Her character Norah can be best described as a mess. She has issues routed in abandonment, possessiveness, and substance abuse. She even befriends a dead woman’s daughter in order to bond with someone else lacking a mother in their life.
The gravitation that I felt towards Blunt’s character in Sunshine Cleaning was similar to that of Angelina Jolie’s character Lisa, in Girl Interrupted. Blunt’s American accent makes for an entertaining element to the film as well (she has it down). There is a particularly powerful scene where Norah is at the train tracks crying out to the heavens and trying to understand her dead mother’s suicide motivations.
Amy Adams, who plays Blunt’s sister, is not a bad actress, but played a seemingly pathetic and predictable character. I felt like her portrayal of Rose was similar to that of Lisa Nova’s ‘affirmation girl’ on YouTube (which is not a good thing). I also felt that her character lacked the ability to be fully independent of the other characters and really drive the main story line (she was the main character). I would not have wanted to see a film solely about Rose. Investment in her character is required in order to understand the film, but it is not something one would do willingly. You feel so bad for Rose that in the end you are obligated to root for her.
After seeing Sunshine Cleaning I also came to the conclusion that Amy Adams’ serious acting style is comparative to Kristen Wiig’s comedic style (also not a good thing). I kept watching Adams on screen and thinking Wiig in my brain. Although I love Kristen Wiig I did not want to be thinking about her SNL skits while watching a completely unrelated film. The association proved to be distracting.
On a scale of 1-10 I would rate this film an 8.5 with have no qualms about recommending it to friends. It was definitely not the waste of a Sunday afternoon and I would see it again if asked by a friend.