By Ted Faraone
Rated: R for language, disturbing images, some sexuality and drug use.
Release Date: 2009-03-13
Starring: Megan Holley
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“Sunshine Cleaning,” the third feature from helmer Christine Jeffs, is an amusing trifle of a chick flick that manages to hold attention for 102 minutes. It does so despite a thin plot mainly due to smashing performances by Alan Arkin as con-artist cum paterfamilias Joe Lorkowski, Amy Adams as his less than successful elder daughter Rose, and crisp dialogue by screenwriter Megan Holley. Arkin is making a career at playing pretty much the same existential character he played in “Little Miss Sunshine.” Fortunately for “Sunshine Cleaning,” this time his character is not killed mid-flick.
Plot centers on Rose’s almost “I Love Lucy” style effort to better her circumstances. A star high school cheerleader, opening cuts show her working as a maid days while screwing her now married high school boyfriend (Mac played by Steve Zahn) nights. An unwed mother, her son Oscar’s (Jason Spevack) expulsion from public school ignites her immediate need for more money to pay private school tuition. The Ethel in the duo is slacker younger sister Norah (Emily Blunt). “Sunshine Cleaning” is a biohazard cleanup concern Rose starts after Mac mentions that it is a lucrative growth industry – a point driven home by pic’s opening in which a fellow played by Christopher Dempsey offs himself by shotgun in a sporting goods store.
After a shaky start, all goes well until Norah accidentally burns down a client’s house. That puts uninsured Rose out of business. A couple of notes of pathos (and tears) are introduced via the revelation, mid flick, of absent mother’s (Marya Beauvais) suicide when the siblings were tots. The revelation is set up by an odd subplot with lesbian overtones that leads to a dead end.
Sharp editing by Heather Persons and Jeffs’ firm hand at the throttle move things along at a fine clip, making “Sunshine Cleaning” seem far more compelling than it is. Its message, if it has one, is the Nike slogan, “Just Do It.”
A weepy ending would be out of the question. Jeffs avoids it with a couple of scenes that appear to be almost tacked on – the pivotal one being a sort of deus ex machina that is not entirely set up by what went before, but is at least consistent with pic’s humorous tone. Editor Persons offers a nicely balanced touch in which quick cuts at the film’s open and end accomplish a good deal of exposition. “Sunshine Cleaning” is a bit like Chinese food. It seems more substantial than it is while one is eating it.
Minorities are almost conspicuously absent in this flick set in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Beyond a few seemingly Mexican-American small roles, cast credits reveal only a few Spanish surnamed actors. One, however, Clifton Collins (a.k.a. Clifton Gonzalez-Gonzalez) plays a pivotal although not necessarily ethnic role.
Distributed in the US by Overture Films, “Sunshine Cleaning” is rated “R” due to language, violence (the suicide in the first reel), and sexual content.