This Week in Counter Programming: Sunshine Cleaning

Amy Adams and Emily Blunt star as two loser sisters who pull it together by cleaning up other people’s suicides.
By  · Published on March 13th, 2009

Editor’s Note: This weekend the folks at Overture Films will be releasing Sunshine Cleaning in select markets. Therefore we’ve chosen to re-post our review of the film from Sundance 2008. Please enjoy below. We would also like to present this film as this week’s selection for This Week in Counter Programming, as it makes a great counter-option if you aren’t into seeing The Last House on the Left or Race to Witch Mountain.

If you are like me, then you would probably walk through fire in the honor of either Amy Adams or Emily Blunt. Over the past 2-3 years, these two beauties have been seeping their way into some of the best roles that we’ve seen in a long time. I first spotted Amy Adams in Junebug in 2005, and it was her breakout performance. The next year Emily Blunt broke out as the neurotic assistant in The Devil Wears Prada. From there, these two ladies have been in everything from Enchanted to Dan in Real Life and they have been awesome every step along the way.

So it makes sense, at least in my mind, that they would eventually end up in the same movie. The fact that they would end up here at Sundance playing two sisters who try and solve their problems by creating a cleaning company that cleans up the scene after someone has died, no matter how they died. In Sunshine Cleaning, that is exactly where we find them. Adams plays Rose, the older sister, a single mom who is constantly reminded that while she was the head cheerleader in high school, she didn’t make much of herself since. Emily Blunt plays Norah, the pot smoking, freeloading younger sister who is doing everything she can to avoid adulthood. Together they take care of Rose’s son (Jason Spevack) and their father (Alan Arkin) and attempt to keep each other out of trouble as much as possible.

The crime scene cleanup gig comes by way of Rose’s married-man detective lover (Steve Zahn) who tells her that there is good money in cleaning up what is left after the body is gone. Eventually though, Rose and Norah find that they may have dived in a little too quick, and it puts them in a tough spot — where they will need to help pull each other along to survive this thing we call the real world.

Written by newcomer Megan Holley, Sunshine Cleaning is a very well done dark comedy. It combines a deep story about family with some very entertaining moments of dark comedy. As you might imagine, Alan Arkin provides plenty of the comedic moments as the eccentric old father — a role that is very familiar for him — leading around his grandson and teaching him about life and other important things, like investments.

But while Arkin’s delivery creates the comedy, the impressive talent of Amy Adams and Emily Blunt are the pillars upon which this film stands. Even while they are scraping up blood and guts, they are still able to be very sweet and endearing. They can also thank the screenwriter for crafting a story that is original, intelligent and complex without being overbearing. We are drawn into the relationship between these two sisters and as the film moves along, we discover that there is so much more to this story than just two young women struggling to get by.

The only issue I can take with the film is that it may send the wrong message to audiences. You look at a cast like this and the broad concept of this film and you expect it to be funny — and it certainly is. But that is not all there is to it. Director Christine Jeffs and her cast have created a moving, dramatic story that is visually interesting, and wholly entertaining. Some may be quick to label it a “chick flick”, but I have a strange feeling that it is a little more than that.

Grade: B+

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)