Cleaning up crime scenes - and her toxic life

"Sunshine Cleaning" is an unadorned, unassuming portrait of a woman (Amy Adams, left) who is the glue keeping together a fragile family that includes her son, her father, and her morose sister (Emily Blunt, right).
"Sunshine Cleaning" is an unadorned, unassuming portrait of a woman (Amy Adams, left) who is the glue keeping together a fragile family that includes her son, her father, and her morose sister (Emily Blunt, right).
Posted: March 20, 2009

As head cheerleader and girl-most-likely at high school a decade ago, Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) shook her pom-poms and fanny. She dated the quarterback and was the queen bee around whom everyone buzzed.

These days, the Albuquerque single mother shakes her Swiffer cleaning the houses of the girls who once wanted to be her. Mostly, Rose worries about rent, panics about her son's education, and meets the former football star (Steve Zahn), now a cop and married to another, for assignations at a nearby motel. On top of that, she is the glue keeping together a fragile family that includes her son, her traveling-salesman father (Alan Arkin), and her morose sister, Norah (Emily Blunt).

Sunshine Cleaning is an unadorned, unassuming portrait of a woman who is always there for others and puzzled when they cannot always reciprocate. Despite the film's title, the weather around the Lorkowski clan is partly cloudy, for reasons not fully explained until film's end.

Christine Jeffs, the New Zealand filmmaker who directed Sylvia, the underappreciated Sylvia Plath biopic, has assembled an accomplished cast for the dramedy from screenwriter Megan Holley. They are singly and collectively wonderful in a film that reverberates with the tensions and comic desperation of the similarly themed (and similarly named) Little Miss Sunshine, which also featured Arkin.

The cheerleader-optimist Adams and the Goth-pessimist Blunt are especially fine. Although they resemble each other about as much as a peach and a cactus pear, Adams, who trembled in Meryl Streep's shadow in Doubt, and Blunt, who did so in The Devil Wears Prada, convince as siblings.

Rose doesn't make much, and her marginally employed father, the Willy Loman of popcorn, makes even less. She needs money to put her son in a private school, where he's not bullied and actually learns.

Rose dreams of a career as a real-estate broker. But instead of selling houses, she reaffirms that her vocation is cleaning them. After her cop boyfriend hooks her up with a job scrubbing up crime scenes and biohazard sites, Rose begins to clear the soap scum, bloodstains and dust from her toxically disordered life. Jeffs and her heartfelt cast make this narrative conceit work.

"We come into people's lives when they've experienced something profound and sad," Rose tells a group of former classmates creeped out by her line of work. "They've lost somebody, and we help. In some small way, we help," says this font of goodness, who suddenly realizes that in reclaiming these crime scenes, she is reclaiming herself.

Kudos to Clifton Collins Jr., who appears as a dispenser of cleaning products and common sense.


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey

at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com.

Read her blog, Flickgrrl, at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs

/flickgrrl/.

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