Monday, March 23, 2009

"Sunshine Cleaning" - REVIEW

"Sunshine Cleaning" is a classic example of a movie that is good, yet ultimately falls short of the sum of its parts. The difference here, though, are the strong performances from its two leading ladies, and their work is actually enough to make you forgive some of the faults for a few hours after leaving the theater. It's also a movie that suffers from a case of misleading marketing. Promoted as a "dark adult comedy" a la "Little Miss Sunshine", it's actually a quieter, more poignant story with very few laughs. Yet while the marketing may have its priorities wrong, "Sunshine Cleaning" thankfully does not. Set in Albuquerque, the film centers on the Lorkowski family. Rose (Amy Adams) is a former star-cheerleader with real estate aspirations who now spends her time taking care of her gifted-yet-awkward son Oscar, and working for a professional house-keeping business. She's also having an affair with former high school quarterback Mac (Steve Zahn), who is now married with two kids. Norah (Emily Blunt) is struggling to sort her life out, especially after she loses yet another waitressing job at a local restaurant. Unlike Rose, Norah can't afford her own house, and lives with the girls' dad (Alan Arkin), who is constantly thinking up new items to sell to earn fast money. After a fling with Mac one night, Rose learns (to her initial disgust) that people who clean up areas where people have died make surprisingly good money. At first responding with a girlish "that's gross!", Rose quickly warms up to the idea, particularly after she discovers that a recent client of hers is a former classmate, and a successful one at that. Where the film goes right is in its pacing; it's never dull, and the main plot thread kicks into gear almost immediately. In the four or five houses that we see the girls clean, there's a pleasant lack of gross-out gags (the "vomit scene" is only heard, and never seen). And despite the story's focus on death, the script classily avoids cheaply tugging at our heartstrings; there's a delicacy to the way the deaths and their aftershocks are handled both in words and emotions. Also worth a brief mention is Clifton Collins Jr., who plays the owner of a small supply store where the girls find everything they need to make themselves seem legitimate. The character is somewhat one-note, but Collins Jr.'s understated performance makes him wholly likeable. However, after a few hours, those nagging little flaws start to creep into your head, and they become undeniable. First, there's the plot issue of Rose's son. He's taken out of school quite early in the film, yet even after roughly a month or two (the course of the story), there's never any mention of a truant officer showing up. The small subplot involving grandpa's cash schemes is underdeveloped and feels unneccesary, and Arkin himself seems to realize it; several lines are uttered in a tone that suggests "take-the-check-and-run" syndrome. Luckily, this one flaw is redeemed by the strong editing, so that half baked sub plot soon becomes a distant memory. That last flaw is the most curious. It's the way that the script seems to undercut Adams' performance. It isn't because her character is one dimensional (she's not), but rather because she has almost no secrets. All of her problems and situations are laid out for us within the first half hour. Blunt on the other hand, has her character's problems/situation revealed gradually, resulting in what looks like a part with more range. The truth is, both parts have equal range, but after the first half hour, Adams has simply run out of emotions to use. Still, these flaws (and they are significant) are more than countered by the script's strengths, and the fact that the majority of the movie rests on Adams and Blunt's more-than-capable shoulders. It won't be the next big "indie sensation", but "Sunshine Cleaning" is certainly worth a look, and inspite of the tragedy involved, may just brighten your day a little once the credits roll.

Grade: B

Number of 2009 films seen: 7

No comments: