‘Sunshine Cleaning’ finds humor in rubbish

Just because this film is being touted as a comedy released by the producers of “Little Miss Sunshine” doesn’t mean it’s actually the same movie. Nor is it a comedy. In fact, the similarities end with the play on words in the titles and a shared actor (Alan Arkin).
“Sunshine Cleaning” tells the story of Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams, “Doubt”) and her struggles to make something more of her life. She is a single mother with a precocious little boy (Jason Spevack, “The Stone Angel”). Desperate to get her son into a better school, she decides to start a cleaning business of her own with her flaky sister (Emily Blunt, “The Jane Austen Book Club”), but this is no ordinary cleaning service. They clean up crime scenes and remove biohazards.
This has all the earmarks of an independent film: quirky characters, an original plot and odd elements strewn throughout. It is certainly not a comedy despite a few funny moments and it is certainly not mainstream fare as it has been falsely advertised.
Yet that doesn’t mean that it will disappoint. This is a film that is startlingly different from everything else in the theaters and as a result, it is completely refreshing.
Frankly, it defies categorizing. It’s not really a drama, though it strives to be. And it somehow manages not to be a chick flick either, despite the fact that it’s directed by a woman, written by another woman and stars two amazingly talented women in the leading roles.
In fact, this may very well be Adams’ best role to date. She uses the wide-eyed naiveté she has become known for to great effect here, giving it much more depth and pathos than she has ever shown before. Part of this is due to the script, which allows the audience to see the vulnerability of her character as she chants empowering mantras to herself in front of the mirror. And part of the credit can be laid at the director’s feet as well.
Although a few of the choices of what is shown on screen leave the viewers wondering what the point was (like the brief flashes of nudity, sex, drug use and lesbianism that seem to add nothing to the plot), some of Christine Jeffs’ choices only serve to add to the tone of the film. There are several amusing straight shots that take on the deadpan sense of humor prevalent in the film, like the shot of the school secretary staring down the little boy in trouble.
But be forewarned. Although no violence or corpses are actually shown on screen, the shocking gore factor of the locales that need cleaning are quite disturbing. Even when one knows that they have to consist of nothing more than fake blood and other miscellaneous props, they can be quite unsettling.
This is not light-hearted entertainment. This movie explores some very dark themes of death, grief, suicide and its after-effects. There are a few twists and turns within that framework, however, which will move the audience more than they might have expected. As such, these are characters that will long be remembered as real people. They struggle with life, love and the everyday choices we all face, and in the end, that’s all it takes to make a great movie.