Sunshine Cleaning


Rating 3

Directed by Christine Jeffs

Written by Megan Holley

Starring Amy Adams (Rose Lorkowski), Emily Blunt (Norah Lorkowski), Alan Arkin (Joe Lorkowski), Jason Spevack (Oscar Lorkowski), Clifton Collins Jr (Winston), Steve Zahn (Mac), Amy Redford (Heather) and Mary Lynn Rajskub (Lynn)

Rose Lorkowski was a popular cheerleader who dated the football team’s star quarterback at high school. Now she is a single mother, who works as a maid and cleans houses for a living. Her younger sister Norah refuses to take self-responsibility and lives at home with their father, Joe, a salesman with a history of failed get-rich-quick schemes. She has recently been fired from her job as a waitress. Their mother, an aspiring actress, committed suicide when they were both very young. Rose has a young son, Oscar, who is very bright, but is failed by the inadequacies of his school and reacts with behaviour that they deem to be anti-social.

Rose is having an affair with a married police detective, who tells her about the crime scene clean-up business, saying it would be a lucrative business to get into. She persuades her sister to join her in the enterprise and cleaning up the scenes of often violent death proves to be both a life-changing and life-affirming experience.


‘Sunshine Cleaning’ is a small budget independent film directed by the New Zealand film director Christine Jeffs, who’s previous film, ‘Sylvia’, the story of the American poet Sylvia Plath, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig, was released in 2003. This new film was written by first-time writer Megan Holley, the director of a 2002 indie film called ‘The Snowflake Crusade’, starring ‘The L Word’ actress Leisha Hailey. ‘Sunshine Cleaning’ was first screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2008 and received a limited theatrical release in the UK at the end of June 2009.

It has been observed by several films critics that ‘Sunshine Cleaning’ is a blatant and unsubtle attempt to cash-in on the success of ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, the 2006 film that grossed in excess of $100 million at the box office worldwide against a production budget of just $8 million and received four Academy Award nominations, including two wins. One of those wins was for Alan Arkin (Best Supporting Actor), who is also featured in ‘Sunshine Cleaning’. I was a little bit underwhelmed by ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, perhaps because of the hype, and probably enjoyed ‘Sunshine Cleaning’ more.

There would appear to be a general school of thought when approaching the critique of films that all non-English language films are automatically superior to American films – and independent American films are automatically superior to mainstream American films. This is, of course, nonsense. Indie films are, frequently, just as formulaic as mainstream films. ‘Sunshine Cleaning’ is a case in point. It is very obvious how the story is going to play out and it is also very manipulative – for example, the scene in which Rose and Norah go to the house where an elderly man has committed suicide and they are met by his wife, who is waiting for them with the keys. It does work, and very well, but it is not subtle and it is not especially inventive. This is just one of many examples – the silliest, surely, coming when Rose notices the film on television is the one her mother had appeared in so many years earlier, a film neither she nor her sister had ever previously seen – and it just happens to be the single, very brief, scene in which their mother appears.
This is straight out of a Lifetime movie.

The film is too neat, too overly sugary and sentimental, and entirely divorced from anything approaching realism. Ultimately, though, what saves it is that, allowing that it is all a bit shallow and calculating, it is nicely written, the characters are likeable, and there are a couple of wonderful performances by Emily Blunt (who put me in mind of a less spiky, less volatile Juliette Lewis) and, in particular, Amy Adams.

Adams has proved herself to be one of America’s most talented film actresses and has received considerable praise since her breakthrough role in ‘Junebug’ in 2005, after several years of professional acting. She has received two best supporting actress Academy Award nominations, for the aforementioned ‘Junebug’ and for ‘Doubt’ in 2008. Bucking the trend, the film critic David Thomson recently wrote a rather extraordinary piece in The Guardian, in which he suggested that Adams is a pleasant but undistinguished actress of rather mediocre ability, who is only praised because she is unthreatening, and that she should make the most of her unwarranted success while it lasts because by the time she is 4o she will look like a “pudding”. I would strongly disagree with this view, which does seem to have a real streak of vindictiveness about it. It is perhaps worth remembering that a few years ago Thomson, a film critic of great repute, wrote a book about Nicole Kidman in which he eulogised about her “gingery pubic hair” and “very pretty bare bottom”.

‘Sunshine Cleaning’ has a 73% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes from 141 reviews.

Review posted 22 July 2009


No comments: