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Overall Rating

Awesome: 3.33%
Worth A Look53.33%
Just Average: 20%
Pretty Crappy: 23.33%
Sucks: 0%

4 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Sunshine Cleaning
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Married To The Mop"
3 stars

“Sunshine Cleaning” is yet another of those self-consciously quirky indie comedy-dramas in which a colorfully dysfunctional family (portrayed by a combination of up-and-coming talent, veteran performers and the occasional big star trying to gain some industry cred by working on a smaller project) pulls itself together to achieve some determinedly kooky dream while simultaneously coming to terms with the very things that made them dysfunctional in the first place--stuff like dark secrets, crushed ambitions and unfulfilling relationships with people portrayed by Steve Zahn. Like many films of this type, it tries to pass itself off as something wildly offbeat and unusual but eventually reveals itself to be just as staid and formulaic as the draggy studio concoctions that it is supposed to be rebelling against. Unlike many films of this type, it has been cast with such a wonderful group of actors--the kind who can sell even the most weakly constructed screenplays and thinly developed characters by the sheer force of their talent, charm and charisma--that as it rambles along, it is almost, but not quite, possible to forget just how silly, derivative and hackneyed everything else about it is.

Amy Adams stars as Rose, an eternally hopeful woman whose life to date has not quite panned out according to her expectations--she is now a single mother in Albuquerque whose personal life consists of the occasional furtive motel rendezvous with her now-married former high school sweetheart, Mac (Steve Zahn) and whose professional life consists of working for a maid service while dreaming of one day getting her real estate license (which should be an indication that this film has been sitting around since debuting at the 2008 edition of Sundance). During one of their meetings, Mac talks to Rose about an especially messy crime scene and happens to mention that the cleaning crews brought in to clean up the blood and brain matter make a lot of money. This information inspires Rose to go into business for herself in that rarefied field and to bring in her wayward sister, Norah (Emily Blunt) as a partner. The rest of the film follows their various misadventures, disagreements and reconciliations and also includes their encounters with such oddball characters as their flighty father (Alan Arkin), a kook whose get-rich-quick schemes include selling shrimp of a questionable nature from the trunk of his car, a one-armed cleaning supply salesman (Clifton Collins Jr.) and a woman (Mary Lynn Raskjub) with a mysterious connection to one of the bodies that they find themselves cleaning up after.

With its aggressively quirky characters and a screenplay that switches tones in virtually every scene--going from low-key satire to broad comedy to heart-rending drama at the flip of a page--“Sunshine Cleaning” often comes across as a compendium of elements culled from most of the big indie films of recent years, most obviously the Alan Arkin-starring and Albuquerque-set “Little Miss Sunshine,” than an organically constructed story of its own. The basic premise is certainly intriguing and could theoretically lend itself to any number of narrative approaches--imagine such material in the hands of a supreme social satirist like the late Michael Ritchie--but as it goes on, it becomes abundantly clear that neither screenwriter Megan Holley nor director Christine Jeffs ever really had much of an idea of what kind of story they wanted to tell from that premise. Rather than suggesting the chaos of the day-to-day lives of its heroines, the film’s frequent shifts of tone are more distracting than anything else. The sheer number of unnecessary subplots and diversions on display here (such as the stuff involving Norah’s relationship with the mysterious woman, Rose’s determination to show up at the baby shower of a long-ago school acquaintance and their shared trauma over the circumstances surrounding their own mother‘s untimely demise) further suggest a screenplay in desperate need of at least one more rewrite before going in front of the cameras. By the time it gets to its resoundingly unconvincing conclusion in which everyone more or less gets exactly what they deserve, it doesn’t even feel like a movie any more--it feels more like a compilation of episodes from a lesser HBO series that didn’t make it to a second season.

Although these flaws are such that I cannot really recommend that you go out and see “Sunshine Cleaning,” I must admit that, for the most part, the actors do such a good job of rising above the questionable writing and direction that they have been given that they make such a decision a much closer call than it has any right to be. For starters, it basically confirms once and for all Amy Adams’ status as one of the more talented young American actresses at work today--we know that she can do the charming and bubbly thing like nobody’s business but she also gets a chance to show off her considerable dramatic chops as well in scenes that demonstrate that she clearly put a lot more thought into her character than either the writer or director evidently did. Emily Blunt is also pretty wonderful as Norah--best known for playing ultra-controlled characters in things like “The Devil Wears Prada” and the underrated “Wind Chill,” she is equally convincing as the looser and funkier of the two sisters and even though her storylines are very interesting, she manages to keep you interested. Clifton Collins Jr. is also very good as the shy cleaning supply salesman who is perhaps the closest thing to a plausible character to be found in the film. As for Alan Arkin, while there isn’t anything that he does here that he hasn’t done in at least a dozen better movies, he can’t help but jazz things up in the same way that Christopher Walken does when he makes one of his weirdo cameos. He does such a good job of this that I found myself wondering why the filmmakers didn’t simply junk all the other stuff and make a movie following his character peddling the shrimp out of his trunk. They are all good but even they are unable to completely straighten up the mess that is “Sunshine Cleaning.”

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16895&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/20/09 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2008 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/31/11 Annie G A bit out there, but an enjoyable independent film. 4 stars
5/21/10 jules deep personal insight and sensitivity is needed for one to understand -- live -- this movie 5 stars
1/19/10 Andrew Shearer Did Clifton Collins's character ever reveal how he lost his arm? 4 stars
9/19/09 theone Editing is choppy in some scenes, but great acting and message in film 4 stars
4/02/09 Ming The most enjoyable film i ahve seen for this year,a good family relationship story 4 stars
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  DVD: 25-Aug-2009


  DVD: 25-Aug-2009

Directed by
  Christine Jeffs

Written by
  Megan Holley

  Amy Adams
  Emily Blunt
  Steve Zahn
  Alan Arkin

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