Sunshine Cleaning (Overture Films, R)

film_sunshine_sm.jpgThey try to lift themselves up by their bootstraps. They learn. We don’t.








It’s pretty rare in such a boy-run industry to find a film that was made by and stars females, even if you try to go out of your way to find them. Sunshine Cleaning is one such movie, and is all the more notable for not having a single female mastermind, á la Jane Campion, Miranda July or Sofia Coppola behind it. Christine Jeffs, the director of the dull Sylvia Plath biopic Sylvia, directs a script from newcomer Megan Holley, and the two leads are played by the already adored Emily Blunt and Amy Adams. On top of all of this, the premise is a good one: Two regular girls, the down-on-her-luck, hardworking single mother Rose (Adams) and the irresponsible and clumsy Norah (Blunt), start a cleaning service that specializes in crime scenes and other biohazard sites when they find out there’s more money in that than cleaning the houses of their rich ex-classmates.

What sucks is that unlike the aforementioned films of Campion, July and Coppola, Sunshine Cleaning is not a film that be added to the list of films of merit made by females. That isn’t to say it’s horrible—any film that has both Adams and Blunt in it is going to be watchable—but more than anything, it’s just dull and drab and uninspired, when everything about it seems like it would have been good.

Sunshine Cleaning‘s biggest problem is that it doesn’t really make you care. All of the characters are vapid and neatly stereotypical enough that you never really feel any connection to them or their plight. It all feels like the same old stuff we’ve been seeing in movies for years, but with less life: characters have affairs that are bad for their mental health, they have precocious, misunderstood children, they have fathers who have bad get-rich-quick schemes. They try to lift themselves up by their bootstraps. They learn. We don’t.

Aside from Adams and Blunt, the rest of the cast is very good, which helps restore at least some life to the film. Steve Zahn pops up as the married man who is cheating on his wife with Rose, and he’s always welcome in any film that I’m watching, as is Mary Lynn Rajskub as one of Norah’s friends. The real scene-stealer, though, is Clifton Collins Jr., as the one-armed cleaning supplies retailer Winston, who helps Rose figure out how she needs to be going about her job before she’s run out by things like competing crime scene cleanup crews or laws about how to dispose of biohazards. The film’s handling of Winston and Rose’s burgeoning friendship is really about the only thing that feels new and fresh. | Pete Timmermann

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