Sunshine Cleaning is known snidely in some quarters as “Sundance Sunshine 2,” a reference to the fact that, like Little Miss Sunshine, it debuted at Sundance (in 2008), mixes drama without offbeat comedy and is about a dysfunctional family from Albuquerque. Oh yes, it also features Alan Arkin as a crotchety grandpa.
But, really, for most of its length, Sunshine Cleaning is no clone. Written by Megan Holley and directed on a tight budget by tough-minded New Zealander Christine Jeffs (Sylvia, Rain), it offers an authentically melancholy view of America as a place where some people die lonely and often violently, their lives reduced to little more than the bloody mess they make when they go.
Two wonderfully emotionally alert actresses at their best, Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, play working-class sisters Rose and Norah, whose job it is to clean up that mess. As they go about their business, consoling a surviving spouse or finding a kitten left behind, the film achieves stretches of pathos. And the details of how they do their work are surprisingly engrossing, especially as Rose strikes up a friendship with Winston (Clifton Collins Jr.), the droll, one-armed owner of a cleaning-supplies shop. And the attraction that Norah begins to feel for another women (Mary Lynn Rajskub) also leads to several good scenes.
But just when the movie needs to go deeper and really test Rose and Norah’s resolve, it wraps up too easily with an upbeat ending that seems unearned and unbelievable. Grade: B
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