Sunshine Cleaning marks its 15th anniversary since holding its world premiere during the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.
The film’s premiere came on January 18 at the Racquet Club theater. If the venue name does not sound familiar, you probably know it by its new name: Park City Municipal Area Recreation Center (MARC). In any event, I never had the opportunity to check out the film in theaters, only on home video. While it plays beautifully at home, it’s definitely a film that works with an audience.
This was a film that piqued my interest as soon as I studied the Sundance lineup in entertainment magazines. It had everything going for it: producers of Little Miss Sunshine along with a star-studded cast. What’s not to like? Much like the 2006 comedy, it also had some quirks of its own given that the Lorkowski sisters start up a biohazard removal and crime scene clean-up business. It offers some quick cash and helps them make a living in the process. Hey, somebody has to do the dirty work! All in all, the film earned just over $17 million worldwide against a $5 million production budget. Let me tell you though, Avy Kaufman’s CSA win was well-deserved because this cast crushes it.
Rose (Amy Adams) is the more reliable of the two sisters as Norah (Emily Blunt) is more of a slacker. Getting into the clean-up business isn’t too much of a stretch for Rose because she was already cleaning houses. The only difference is that the crime jobs pay even more. However, they require having certain training and certificates but Rose managed to get licensed. Anyway, it’s only because of Rose’s ex-boyfriend/married lover Mac (Steve Zahn) that the two sisters ended up in the business. Rose especially needed the funds because she might have to send her son, Oscar (Jason Spevack), to private school. On the business side of things, they find a mentor in Winston (Clifton Collins Jr.). Anyway, they grow closer together in the process.
The main leads–including their father, Joe (Alan Arkin)–have their own issues. Rose finally calls it off with Mac after learning his wife his pregnant. The baby shower scene is one of the most hysterical scenes in the entire film. I mean, the look on their faces when Rose describes her job is priceless! Unfortunately, Rose attending means Norah has to take on the responsibility of doing a job by herself. Unfortunately, she burns a house down, thus spelling the end of their Sunshine Cleaning business. Norah meets Lynn (Mary Lynn Rajskub) and forms a relationship with her. That being said, they go trestling in one of the film’s poignant moments. In the end, Norah goes off to find herself while Joe’s shrimp business falters. Ultimately, Joe and Norah go into business together.
The crime scene business makes for quite the interesting backdrop. It’s a solid premise and it could very well have become a thriller. Outside of heist films, it’s very easy to think of thrillers or crime procedurals more often than a comedy. After watching the film, it’s impossible to imagine it being made in another genre. The superb performances are what make Megan Holley’s quirky screenplay come to life. While the film plays more to comedy than drama, the filmmakers put in the work when it comes to researching the ins and outs of the business.
While Holley wrote the film with a setting closer to Baltimore, the film ended up being shot on location in Albuquerque. The New Mexican setting works for the film as it offers filmmakers some visuals that help elevate the story. As we know from Breaking Bad, no matter what type of shot or landscape, it’s going to turn out great.
New Zealand filmmaker Christine Jeffs is at the helm behind the camera. While she had a filmmaking career prior to launching the film at Sundance, it’s surprising we haven’t seen anything from her in the past fifteen years. A few years prior, her work on Rain got her listed on Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch list. IMDb shows a new project, A Mistake, listed in post-production. As for screenwriter Megan Holley, IMDb shows an earlier screenplay, Kolma, listed as being in development but aside from that, nothing in the past 15 years.
Sunshine Cleaning succeeds because Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, and Alan Arkin are so good at their jobs. In a perfect world, they would have received more acclaim for their work. That it didn’t speaks to how much it costs to run an awards campaign although Adams did earn a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her performance in Doubt. Here’s to the hope that Amy Adams will win an Oscar one day.
DIRECTOR: Christine Jeffs
SCREENWRITER: Megan Holley
CAST: Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Jason Spevack, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Clifton Collins Jr., Eric Christian Olsen, Kevin Chapman, with Steve Zahn and Alan Arkin
Overture Films released Sunshine Cleaning on March 13, 2009. Grade: 4/5
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