I suppose today is as good a day as any for this month’s Amy Adams movie. Today is also as good a day as any for this month’s potentially twee, darling-of-Sundance, indie, family comedy/drama. Luckily enough, I have a rental that satisfies both of those needs.
Adams and Blunt. Ryan happy.
Rose is a thirty-something single mother working as a maid, who occasionally meets up with her now-married high school boyfriend Mac for motel sex while telling her family she’s going to night school to get a real estate licence. Her little sister Norah is a burnout, still living with dad and getting fired from one crappy job after another. Together they are… Wyld Sta- no, hang on. I did that joke once before, didn’t I? Anyway, needing a way to make more cash, Rose gets a tip from Mac (who happens to be a homicide detective) about crime scene clean-up. After recruiting Norah, Sunshine Cleaning is born. Can the two very different sisters work together to make their business a success? Well, this is an indie film, so it could go either way I suppose.
After I reviewed The Fighter back in March, I got a tip about this flick. The Great Unnamed over at Paragraph Film Reviews described it as “the sexiest crime scene clean-up film you can imagine”. Now since the only other crime scene clean-up film I can think of off the top of my head starred Samuel L. Jackson and possibly Ed Harris, I figured he was on to something*. So with that glowing praise ringing in my ears, I added this to my rental list and Lovefilm finally delivered. And he was right.
My regular readers may already be aware of my huge Amy Adams crush, and this film does nothing to diminish that. The movie plays out mainly through her eyes as Rose and at this point it seems almost redundant for me to say how good she is, so I’ll go and sing Emily Blunt’s praises for a while instead. Normally so upright and, well, English, in such films as The Wolfman and Young Victoria, Blunt gets to cut loose a bit more as Norah, the screw-up of the Lorkowski family who finds some sense of purpose and responsibility in her new career. The two actresses totally convince as sisters; there even seems to be an actual physical resemblance between them. The supporting cast are all good too, particularly Alan Arkin as Papa Lorkowski, and Clifton Collins Jr. and Mary Lynn Rajskub as Rose and Norah’s potential new love interests (respectively). Young Canadian actor Jason Spevack is also good as Rose’s son Oscar. On the strength of his performance as the intelligent but easily distracted youngster, he’s now one of the select group of child actors that don’t irritate me almost to the point of violence. Arkin is again riffing on the grouchy but kind-hearted grandpa routine he tore up Little Miss Sunshine with two years earlier (only with more shrimp and less heroin) but when he’s this much fun, who cares if he’s repeating himself a little?
This film is about family, and the way families drive each other mad sometimes but still find ways of looking out for each other. Megan Holley’s script (her first, according to the IMDb) examines these themes with good humour and a light touch, but I think the movie could have used a bit more external conflict as well. There are a couple of moments that seem to be setting up some kind of adversarial relationship, such as the more established cleaner who doesn’t appreciate a couple of amateurs poaching his jobs, but other than the fallout from Norah’s candle incident – which happens entirely off-screen – none of these are explored any further. It’s as if Holley was trying to build in this element but changed her mind, or the rest of the subplots were cut somewhere during development or production. Unfortunately, it has left these dangling threads that distract for a scene or two and then vanish. Another minor gripe is Winston, the one-armed maven of cleaning supplies and model aeroplanes. I have been a fan of Clifton Collins Jr. since he was Clifton Gonzales-Gonzales and this is one of the most restrained and nuanced performances I’ve seen from him, but again he’s let down a bit by the screenplay. At the cost of maybe five or ten extra minutes, this flick would have only been improved by another couple of scenes of Winston and Rose, or Winston and Oscar, and seeing how those relationships developed further.
Overall though, the positives outweigh the negatives. With Adams, Blunt and Arkin on top form this is a film that is very hard to dislike. And for those of you on the fence about watching this, I can confirm that once again Amy Adams appears frequently in just her underwear. You’re welcome.
*If you’re reading this Sam, I think you’re a very handsome man but you’re just not my type. Please don’t hit me.