Day 2. I heard about Sunshine Cleaning a few years back from Blender (I had a random subscription even though I don’t remember signing up). The movie immediately interested me because it never occurred to me that there are people who get paid to clean up crime scenes. The main strength of this film is the cast. Everyone’s performances are spot on and feel authentic. Amy Adams is great as Rose, the nervous older sister who feels disappointed by the path her life has taken. Adams, who is known for portraying happy-go-lucky characters (i.e. Enchanted), is able to add depth to Rose by showing her vulnerability. I really felt for Rose and empathized with her desperation and low self-esteem, particularly the scene when she is laying on a bed alone in an empty motel. Emily Blunt is excellent in her role as well. She totally transformed from Emily in The Devil Wears Prada to Norah, the free-spirited younger sister. At first glance, Norah seems like the typical angsty younger sister who is lazy and the polar opposite of her older sister; however, I was surprised that the character was much deeper than this. While she grumbles and moans (like me) when Rose first approaches her about starting a crime scene clean-up company, she is willing to help out. Her big heart is also seen when after cleaning the house of a woman who died, she tries to find her daughter. The most touching and beautifully shot scene is when Norah goes trestling (which I had never heard of, probably b/c their aren’t any freight trains near my house). After revealing that her mother’s death was a “do-it-yourself deal,” the camera cuts between Norah with her head thrown back underneath the train tracks, and her memory of her mother’s dead body. It’s especially powerful after knowing that Norah only has a few memories of her mother, and one of the most vivid one is so horrible.
While both Adams and Blunt embody their roles well, the relationship between Oscar, Rose’s son, and Joe, his grandfather, is the most heartwarming. Alan Arkin is hilarious as a grandfather who always has a new idea for a business. With his New York accent and Oscar’s bored expressions as they go on various outings, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the countless times my own grandfather babysat me. Jason Spevack‘s portrayal of Oscar, a smart kid who seems wise beyond his years, is superb. Oscar reminded me of myself, especially when he asks logistical questions while Norah is telling him a scary story. One of the most heartfelt scenes is when he uses the intercom in his mom’s van to talk to God. Oscar, like his mother and most of us, is simply looking for answers to his questions.
This is the second movie in a row that actually surprised me with its plot. I didn’t expect the storyline involving their mother and I didn’t see the ending coming. While I enjoyed the cast, the believable sister relationship between Adams and Blunt, and the random touch of romance, I still had some issues with the movie. Norah and Lynn, the daughter of the woman who died, had a strange relationship that could have been developed better. I didn’t understand why Norah wanted to find Lynn in the first place. Did Lynn not know her mother was dead? It also was not clear if Norah was interested in Lynn romantically. Another issue is the integration of serious revelations into the plot. I don’t know how realistic it was for Norah to randomly tell Lynn about her mother’s suicide. It was also disappointing to see Norah relegated back to the typical free-spirited character when the film ends with her driving away into the sunset. Despite this, I really liked Sunshine Cleaning. It was surprisingly heartwarming and emotional with its exploration of family relationships, disappointment, and life’s trials from a new perspective that is fresh and genuine. I definitely wouldn’t mind using the intercom in a rusty old van to vent my problems and talk to heaven.