Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sunshine Cleaning: The sun always shines on TV

Sunshine Cleaning (Christine Jeffs, 2009) (The Oxford) Sunshine Cleaning opens with a suicide in a sporting goods store and quickly moves through a CSI-style investigation scene (with a decidedly less earnest tone than its network TV namesake) before reaching the less glamorous (or at least less glamorized) part of the process - after the fingerprints are dusted, the splatter tests run, the site inventory completed, and the body wheeled away, it is time to clean up the blood.

It stands to reason that every grizzly crime scene has to be buffed and polished so that the location can be restored for day-to-day use. It also stands to reason - as we learn in Sunshine Cleaning - that this would be a pretty high paying job, not the least because of the general aversion to handling brain matter and body parts, but also because the crime scene is often literally smeared with biohazard (I promise that that is the most graphic that I get in this post!).

Enter Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams), former cheerleader and girlfriend to the captain of the football team who has since "fallen" to the point where she works as a maid to support her precocious and ever-so-movie-cute son Oscar - its a prototypical "peaked in high school" situation. Long story short, Oscar is not fitting in in public school, and Rose wants to place him in an expensive private school that she cannot afford. Unless....

See where we are going here? Rose's married cop "boyfriend" hooks her up with a crime scene cleanup, and next thing you know she and her reluctant sister Norah (Emily Blunt) are disposing of blood-soaked mattresses and scrubbing all manner of biological matter from walls and floors.

Of course this does not instantly solve all of Rose's problems, and instead serves as an avenue for introducing more of her own - such as her difficulty dealing with her fall from "queen of the prom" status - and the misfortunes of her entire family: Norah's conflicted search for love in a less-than-orthodox manner, Oscar's inability to understand what he is a "bastard" child, and her father's (Alan Arkin) affinity for get-rich-quick schemes.

Short Cuts
Yeah, there are a lot of stories going on in Sunshine Cleaning, but it is not confusing, convoluted, or overly cerebral. In fact, despite its gruesome subject matter, the film is decidedly light-hearted and - real moments of despair and sadness aside - is actually suffused with hope and wholesome family goodness.

For the obvious reason of its title - and the perhaps coincidental involvement of Alan Arkin - I, and a lot of people that I have spoken to, automatically refer to Little Miss Sunshine when I discuss Sunshine Cleaning. I have searched IMDB, and besides Mr. Arkin and the word "sunshine," there seems to be no correlation.

That being said, I enjoyed Little Miss Sunshine, but not nearly as much as the legion of adoring moviegoers seem to have - the movie on the whole was just a little bit too glowing with perky and positive energy. I enjoyed Sunshine Cleaning greatly - and liked it a lot more that LMS - but still must say that it also bordered a little on the side of overly happy and excessively positive.

I don't mope around in all black or anything, but especially given its subject matter, I would have welcomed a bit more of an edge - some black humour to balance the family affirmation storyline. I mean, these girls are cleaning brain matter off the walls of seedy motel shower stalls for god's sake! That's gotta mess with your head, and I would have liked it if the film had explored this a little bit.

On the other hand, maybe this theme would have been the straw that would have broken the camel's back. As I mentioned, there are a lot of story lines and themes in this film, most of which are never resolved or even explored in any depth - adding another is perhaps the last thing that it needs.

This lack of resolution of many story lines, I feel compelled to add, is not necessarily a negative. Sunshine Cleaning plays fast and loose with a lot of heavy themes, but we don't finish the film feeling confused or cheated - we end it with a warm glow, with a bit of sunshine of our own to take home from the theater.

A feel good movie that I can wholeheartedly recommend. Sure I would have liked something with a little more edge (I'm not asking for Bringing out the Dead here), but am really happy with what I got :)

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