Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sunshine Cleaning

Amy Adams is a delight to watch.  I first remember seeing her in Enchanted, which was a delightful movie.  The other day I watched her play the young nun in DoubtSunshine Cleaning is all her, and she's terrific in it.  Rose (Adams) is definitely not a nun.  She's having an affair with a married man, and is a single mom strruggling with life.  She cleans houses for a living, but wants a better career and a better life.  With the encouragement of her policeman boyfriend, she opens a crime scene cleaning service.  The unusual choice of jobs makes for some darkly humorous moments, but it becomes a means through which she and her sister bond and come to terms with the loss of their mom.
Like many independent films, Sunshine Cleaning majors on quirky characters: Rose, with her depressing life and self-affirming exercises, her sister, who can't keep a job, dad (Alan Arkin, terrific as usual), with his business schemes, and Oscar, who can't stay out of trouble at school. I enjoyed seeing Chloe, one of my favorite characters on 24 (Mary Lynn Rajskub, who plays Lynn, the lonely phlebotomist). Also in the quirky category is Wintson (Clifton Collins) the patient and helpful one-armed janitorial supply salesman who builds model airplanes.
Sunshine Cleaning is a comedy, but it's much more than that.  All of the characters are dealing with loss in their own way.  Even Rose's son Oscar is searching.  When Rose is shopping for a used van for her business, the salesman tells Oscar that the CD radio will take his voice to heaven.  Oscar takes him literally, and later he sneaks out of the house to try it.  "Where was I before I was born?  What happens when we die?  Can you see everything down here?"  Rose is not exempt from the same curiosity; later she tunes in for a one-sided conversation with her mom.

With an unlikely start--who would have thought crime scene cleanup would be a great basis for a comedy?--Sunshine Cleaning is a thoroughly enjoyable move with wonderful performances all around.  As a bonus, there are plenty of thoughtful moments, encouraging the viewer to reflect on death, coping with loss, and the importance of family.

Bottom line, 3 1/2 stars.

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