Although “Sunshine Cleaning” may share some DNA with popular indie hit “Little Miss Sunshine,” the films could not be more different. While “Little Miss Sunshine” follows a dysfunctional family with humor and bizarre situations resulting in a somewhat satisfying conclusion, “Sunshine Cleaning” makes no such attempt. The film includes all of the components necessary to make a great film – talented actors, successful producers, a would-be interesting plot and so much more – but for some indefinable reason, this film falls short, failing to capture the former film’s poignancy and charm.
It is as if something went wrong in the editing room: After a bevy of edits and re-edits, some of the information essential to the coherency of the plot was left on the cutting-room floor. “Sunshine Cleaning” jumps around in so many different directions that eventually the audience feels exhausted and bored — so frustrated with the convoluted plot that they give up caring about the two admittedly gifted young actresses.
“Sunshine Cleaning” is one of the most depressing and confusing films I have seen in a while. This is the story of two sisters – Rose (Amy Adams) and Norah Lorkowski (Emily Blunt) – who are at a crossroads in their lives. Rose is a single mom, still sleeping with her high school boyfriend who is now married to someone else and, to top it all off, works as a cleaning lady. Norah, the free-spirited younger sister, gets fired from her job and is still troubled by her mother’s suicide, which happened in Norah’s youth. Naturally (at least in the world of modern quirk-filled independent cinema), the two decide to start a crime scene clean-up business to make ends meet, and end up learning more than just the tricks of the trade, rekindling their strong sisterly bond along the way.
Many may confuse this film with the similarly titled film, “Little Miss Sunshine.” And, while the two films share producers, eccentric families, Academy Award-winning actor Alan Arkin (again playing a lovable yet insane aging father) and the central use of a family van, “Sunshine Cleaning” never quite strikes that same balance between the darker and lighter elements as “Little Miss Sunshine,” which can be considered one of the poster children of the currently thriving “dramedy” genre.
Ultimately, the most glaring problem with ‘Sunshine Cleaning” is that the tragedy never ends. Rose spends much of the film sobbing; Norah consistently displays a negative and angry attitude toward life, Rose remains trapped in her affair with a married man, and, not surprisingly, their decision to start up a business cleaning up after dead people doesn’t yield all that much humor. The cleaning service was meant to be funny, but ultimately leaves audience members with a very bad taste in their mouth (could be formaldehyde).
Praise must be given, however, to the “Sunshine Cleaning” incredibly talented cast. Adams and Blunt are wholly compelling, making it difficult not to feel for their sadly underwritten characters. The ever-dependable Steve Zahn lends depth to his role as the married cop cheating on his wife with Rose. Unfortunately, these great performances cannot save the film’s depressing tone and uninteresting dialogue.