If nothing else, this graduate from the Sundance class of ’08 puts celluloid’s favourite bodily fluids – blood, bile and brain chunks – in a new light: as the slippery crimson path to self-worth for crime-scene scrubber Amy Adams.
Stuck in dead-end lives, Adams’ Rose is a domestic cleaner who wards off crushing sadness with esteem-boosting affirmations (“You are a winner, you are powerful…”), while her sister Norah (Emily Blunt) is a raccoon-eyed fuck-up still living at home with dad (Alan Arkin). But things look up when Rose’s married lover (Steve Zahn) suggests cleaning up crime scenes as an option.
Bringing the same perky cheer she’s wielded in previous roles, only shadowed with self-loathing, Adams gives a delicate, empathetic performance that validates her calling as her generation’s Julia Roberts. She and Blunt (eye-rolling with wicked abandon) strike some bright, flashy sparks as sisters locked in loserdom, the latter’s spike and deadpan clashing against the former’s outward sweetness and light.
But Cleaning is thin, reconstituted gruel, hampered by indie déjà-vu, go-nowhere subplots and a criminal failure to make much of its gutsy premise – wrinkled noses just don’t cut it as satisfactory insight into their gory new profession.
Kiwi director Christine Jeffs (Sylvia) completely loses the plot in the second half, leaving Sunshine to lurch along like an injured creature seeking a hole to die in. Still, with that title, it’s only fair to end on a sunny note, so…
There is some acid-black humour to accompany the inconsequential journey, while Adams and Blunt soar so far above the material, you only wish you were watching them in a better film.
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Sunshine Cleaning gets an A for Amy Adams. Injecting some heartfelt, three-dimensional zest into the wispy, two-dimensional story, she spares this copycat indie’s blushes and scores a winning combo with Blunt.