Reel Review: ‘Sunshine Cleaning’ a tidy little movie

At first, it might seem like “Sunshine Cleaning” is attempting to re-create the magic (and success) of independent blockbuster “Little Miss Sunshine.” It’s understandable since this latest release hits many of the same notes: a dysfunctional family of likable losers, an oddball storyline and the always funny pairing of a quirky kid with Alan Arkin.

Despite these similarities, “Sunshine Cleaning” has every right to proudly stand on its own.

The years since she was the beautiful high school cheerleader dating the football captain have been hard on Rose (Amy Adams), a single mom working for a maid service and barely hanging on with sub-standard help from her loser sister Norah (Emily Blunt) and her head-in-the-clouds dad (Alan Arkin).

Her ongoing affair with now-married high school boyfriend Mac (indie staple Steve Zahn) is yet another dead-end.

But when her son is kicked out of elementary school for his ongoing behavior problems (which seem to quietly disappear for the remainder of the film), Rose is desperate to find the tuition for a better school. Mac, a police detective, suggests crime-scene clean up as lucrative line of work. Rose enlists her sister and off they go, cleaning up the often-stinking remnants of the dead.

With the economy in collapse, this tale of a down-on-their luck family barely hanging on feels timelier than it was probably intended to be. The film takes us around the seedy sides of Albuquerque, usually in a clunker of a car. But even with the consistently bleak visual treatment, there is a warmth to these to people, to this story, that keeps you feeling hopeful – for them and for the times we find ourselves living in.

Adams and Blunt both deliver terrific performances, though at first it is a bit of a struggle to accept the perky-faced Adams, so perfectly cast as a princess in “Enchanted,” in such a downer role.

Director Christine Jeffs and screenwriter Megan Holley are patient in their storytelling, quietly unwrapping a family and all of its unspoken pains and lovable oddities, and managing to tell a good story along the way.

‘Sunshine Cleaning’

  • Rated: R
  • Grade: A
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