By Chase Kahn
A Sundance holdover from last year, Sunshine Cleaning was finally dumped off in theaters this weekend like a blood-stained article of clothing that Rose (Amy Adams) or Norah (Emily Blunt) would drop into a bio-hazard burn box, suspended over the air by one hand covered in a rubber yellow glove, the other hand stopping up the nasal passages.
It's no wonder that a star-studded, potentially marketable indie would be given such the treatment after seeing it, because Sunshine Cleaning just isn't very good. It can't be consumed as light entertainment -- simply to be enjoyed and dropped off afterwards -- because it takes itself too seriously, and niether can it be viewed as a drama because its meatier elements are half-baked and poorly executed.
Rose (Adams) is a well-intentioned single mother running a maid service and her sister Norah (Blunt) is a loaner, a sloth, unmotivated and emotionally weak. Naturally, the two start a crime scene cleaning business together called "Sunshine Cleaning" -- initially for money/stability/togetherness, but eventually for redemption, as we quickly learn the two had lost their mother when their were children, and they attempt (in the minimalist of ways) to somehow "help" these people in whatever capacity they can, which then opens the floodgates for the filmmakers to pound away with gushiness, hold that thought.
In this sense, the film kind of works -- we can buy these two lost women as half-saints who plant seeds of hope in the lives of the people they help (even if that "help" involves scrubbing the blood of their loved one out of thier ottoman). Where Sunshine Cleaning turns sour is in the execution and the subtext -- which, when in doubt, falls into a deep Sarlac pit of sentimentality and crocodile tears until it just loses its way and ends.
In one client's home, Norah finds a small handbag with identification of the woman and presumably, pictures of her daughter. It kicks off a rather superfluous relationship between Norah and the daughter, Lynn (Mary Lyn Rajskub), in which nothing ever happens of any consequence and outside of Norah's ability to relate to her situation, the whole subplot is despensable fluff.
As are Rose's son, Oscar, and his frequent detours with the girls' father (played by Alan Arkin, doing his Little Miss Sunshine routine). Once again, Arkin is playing the grandpa who tells kids to keep their chin up, the world is stupid, you are the king, etc, etc.
In the end, the biggest downfall of Sunshine Cleaning is its insistence on maudlin melodramatics and scattershoot plotting. There are too many scenes that fall into this category -- including several flashbacks of the mother's death and the plot device of a CB radio serving as a gateway channel to speak to the heavens. It's all a shame, because through all of it there is one constant, and that's Amy Adams.
She outlasts the script, the filmmaking, the unwanted sentiments, all of it. She's a terrific actress, no doubts here. I wish I could tell you to see it because of her, but it doesn't outweigh the bad and Sunshine Cleaning is a film in need of an overhaul the likes of which Rose and Norah haven't even attempted.