“We come into people’s lives when they have experienced something profound – and sad. And they’ve lost somebody, you know? And um, the circumstances, they’re always different. But that’s the same. And we help. In some small way we, um, we help.” – Rose
A film I adore but I’m certain that Sunshine Cleaning hasn’t been seen as much as it should. It’s a charming indie gem with two fabulous leading ladies in Amy Adams and Emily Blunt. It’s worth it for them alone. So what’s it about for those yet to see it? Our leading ladies play sister. Adam’s Rose needs to raise tuition fees for her son and takes up an unusual but lucratively paid job, bio-hazard cleaning aka cleaning up after death or murder. Don’t be put off by how dark that may sound though, there’s so much joy to be found in this film.
It’s more than it sounds and certainly more than the only, lacklustre, poster I can find suggests. It’s a film with some sweet messages at its core. It looks at family, at loss, at longing, at self worth and about how you move on when your life hasn’t turned out the way that you expected. It’s something many of us can associate with. I saw it a point when I was unsure about things in my own life but it still feels relevant in other ways now.
Blunt and Adams play two sisters who are feeling just like that and desperate to make some actual money, go into this unusual cleaning business after Rose gets a tip off from her sort of boyfriend. It’s not light work and it hits them more than expected. In many ways the business is a metaphor for their lives and their relationship. The film handles death and loss with care. In a way helping the girls with their own. Losses of various kinds are looked at under the surface.
One of my favourite scenes is where Blunt’s Nora wonders who the deceased was and tracks down her daughter. It’s touching and shows that while she may screw a lot of things up (including this, stalker much!), she means well. She’s brilliant as the scrappy sister and works so well with Adams’ more composed, mother-figure family. They make a believable, likeable family. Between them they long for a glimpse of their lost mother and try to care for their ailing father, wonderfully played in bumbling but smart fashion by Alan Arkin. It’s quirky but family is portrayed realistically and brings a smile to your face. They’re not perfect but you’re rooting for them anyway. Both ladies are pretty on point as ever too.
The son, Oscar, is adorable and more important to the story than I first realised on my first watch. Since then he’s continued to charm me and warm me. He’s a sweet kid, misunderstood but just a little lost. Perhaps I can relate to that. He doesn’t fit in at school because he doesn’t think the same way but he cares for his family and he’s super intelligent. His side story with the supply guy, a brilliant little turn from Clifton Collins Jnr. is sweet. One of my favourite moments from the entire film is the curiosity on Oscar’s face when the girls pick up their van and it has the CB radio in. There’s such a beautiful moment later in the film that ties back to that and influences a touching solo scene with Rose.
It’s a film with humour in it too. Not necessarily laugh out loud funny, but can bring a smile to your face. The scenes at the supply store for example. It balances that well with the sadder scenes, the emotion. The sisters have a believable joke sort of chemistry and Adams is funny sometimes even when she doesn’t mean to be. You’re never laughing at them though, always with them. This is a family unit you’re rooting for and just wishing they got treat better.
The part that always sticks with me the most is the message about self-worth. Both sisters have to learn that lesson and that sometimes making other people happy just doesn’t matter if you’re miserable. The older I get, the more I realise how important that is. If you’ve not seen this, give the film a chance. It’s sweet but never sickly.
Sadly director Christine Jeffs has yet to follow up this feature film with anything else, a shame because the film is well put together with superb performances, a neat screenplay that’s never too wraught (kudos to its writer, Megan Holley) and it’s an all around female-driven gem that deserves more praise than it’s ever had. In what’s been a stellar twelve months for Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, I hope more people will seek this out.