Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sunshine Cleaning

"Blood in the Seams/Heaven on TV/God on the CB/and the Spirit in the Sky"

Where do they come up with these things, these independent movie-makers?

First off, the poster with the chirpy "From the producers of '
Little Miss Sunshine'" didn't help matters any; I'm not a fan of "Little Miss Sunshine" thinking it hit all the right "indie" crowd-pleasing ingredients (Alan Arkin + Gay depressive + quirky family + so-ugly-she's-cute-kid + passive-aggressive marriage + "bizarre" normals + a beater-van = "WARMTH") in the same "by-the-numbers" way James Bond fires off all his gadgets in the same order "Q" introduces them.

"Sunshine Cleaning" hits the same formulaic construction, but the finesse with which it's performed and the sheer weight of its "downer" concepts manages to make it bob cheerily higher in the dank waters it's been pushed into in a life-affirming defiance.

What are we talking about here? Single mom Rose Lorkowski (
Amy Adams, all dewy eyes and iron jaw) is a former Cheerleading Queen in her Albuquerque, New Mexico High School who made all the wrong choices. Knocked up, no prospects, she now cleans the homes of the less popular, stabler girls from her class. She's carrying on a going-nowhere affair with a married cop, who won't leave his wife, who just got pregnant again-(yay!) Her OCD son just got kicked out of school for obsessively licking things (including his teacher). Her worthless sister Nora (a brilliant Emily Blunt-not betraying a hint of her Britishness) just got fired from her worthless waitress job. And Dad (Alan Arkin) is played by Alan Arkin.

To pay for her kid's private education (or anything), she decides to take her cleaning skills up a notch—there's good money to be made cleaning up the "blood and body fluids" from recent crime-scenes. Soon, Rose and Nora are a going concern as their "Sunshine Cleaners" does a fast turn-around of suicide clean-ups, "de-comp's" (as they say in the trade), and every other obnoxious, toxic, disease-ridden scouring job that comes down the pike. "It's a burgeoning field" says Rose, the whites in her eyes showing all-around as she explains it at a baby shower. "We come into people's lives when they're going through something ... profound."

And the intertwining skeins of those lives weighs as heavily as the various crises in their own lives. It all is a bit messy. Amy Adams spends a lot of time looking into mirrors, sometimes chanting a mantra: "You are strong. You are powerful. You can do anything. You are a winner." One night, in a motel room that she's occupying alone, she'll have a new coda for that litany and burbling up will be a half-strangled cry/half-hysterical laugh. It's brilliant. Adams rarely disappoints, and only does when she's got something she's trying to stifle (like her nun in "Doubt" that threatens to turn into her Princess Giselle from "Enchanted" if she cracks a smile.) Not here. Give this girl an Oscar, quick. In fact, director Christine Jeffs gets a great performance out of everybody, that elevates its basic plot (which reminded me a bit of "Happy Gilmore") and stifles one's urge to apply the film's last line to casually toss it onto the indie "also-ran" pile. Films that click this well happen rarely.

"Sunshine Cleaning" is a Matinee.

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