The Reviewer: Sunshine Cleaning

A dark comedy with the word sunshine in the title is usually a good sign. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” left me in a dark and sunny place, and “Little Miss Sunshine” was so brightly uncomfortable it received a whole handful of Oscar nods – including a nomination for Best Picture and two wins: Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Alan Arkin’s performance as foul-mouthed Edwin. Knowing a good thing when they produce one, “Little Miss Sunshine” producers Peter Saraf and Marc Turtletaub again joined forces to bring “Sunshine” to the big-screen: “Sunshine Cleaning.”

The similarities don’t end with the titles and producers. Both “Sunshine” films are set in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and both are brightened by an Alan Arkin supporting role. This time around, Arkin plays Joe Lorkowski, father of daughters Rose and Norah, played by Hollywood’s surprise favorites Amy Adams and Emily Blunt. Receiving critical acclaim in “Doubt” (Adams) and “The Devil Wears Prada” (Blunt), both women give sincerely convincing performances as two sisters trying to dig themselves out of dreary realities.

“Sunshine Cleaning” succeeds from its two lead female characters and the women who play them. Rose (Adams) is the reformed head cheerleader, now a career-less single mom longing to provide a better life for her son and hell bent on proving herself to the world. Her world of course, consists of old high school chums who broke the lower-class ceiling, living the good life as middle-class stay-at-home moms with successful husbands, 3,000 sq. ft. homes, and lavish baby showers. Living the life of a never-ending high school reunion from hell, Rose starts her own business in a desperate attempt to become someone her high school classmates will again envy.

Her one employee is her sister Norah, another failure by societal standards. Your pseudo-gothic, beer chugging, blue eye-shadow wearing Norah is your typical woman stuck in adolescence. She lives at home, screws up every minimum wage job she lands, and still parties under the train tracks. So, you’ve got your pick of heroines: Rose, the uptight, delusional poser, or Norah, the foul-mouthed, attention-hungry punk.

The characters of “Sunshine Cleaning” are brought to life by authentic performances from Adams and Blunt. Adams couldn’t play a character farther from her role as a sinless nun in “Doubt,” yet she is as convincing as a woman of God as she is in “Sunshine Cleaning” as an ex-high school siren, now having a sex-filled affair with a married man.  Blunt, playing an anorexic uptight snob in “The Devil Wears Prada” effortlessly transforms into her “Sunshine” role as the free spirit with no notion of “posh” or “class” to say the least.

Both women use “Sunshine Cleaning” to showcase their acting versatility, and ability to save a film from mediocrity.  Your run of the mill dark comedy elevates to a praiseworthy date flick.

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