Sunshine Cleaning

Pretend the title is a couch soaked in blood and you'll get the idea.
"Life's a messy business"

Welcome back to pretentious indie week, where I will now be discussing a movie in this category that actually had a 8 million dollar budget. I know when I set out to do things, I always come at it with at least 6 mil in cash up my sleeve! Sunshine Cleaning was originally released in March of 2009 with a limited release, but a month later was given a wider release, though that didn't do much for its grossing (bigger is not always better for budgets  I guess, and this movie only ended up taking home around 16 mil all together).

This is how most parties I throw end.
Sunshine Cleaning focuses on the life of Rose Lorkowski, portrayed by Amy Adams (I liked her best as Giselle in Enchanted, maybe you might also remember her from Talladega Nights) and her sister Norah, played by Emily Blunt (who if you remember you would probably recognize from her role in The Devil Wears Prada). Rose is a single mom whose son is thrown out of public school for his behavior. She's given the option of sending him to private school or putting him on ADHD medication. Rose decides to go for the latter, but needs a way to raise the money. On the suggestion of her married lover/serious douchebag Mac (played by Steve Zahn, I liked him as Wayne in Saving Silverman) Rose decides to get into the crime scene clean up business, and ends up partnering with her sister, who is a grade A certified screw up. Meanwhile, Rose's son spends a lot of time with her father Joe, played by Alan Arkin (If you saw Little Miss Sunshine you will remember him from that, playing a similar character actually), who is about as much of a screw up as Norah and is constantly engaged in failed enterprises. The sister duo attempts to run a successful business, all the while trying to manage their very off-rail personal lives, and ultimately they more or less fail at both of those things.

This is what happens when you leave two flighty individuals
to clean up a crime scene. You get a new crime scene.
I think the movie mostly tries to succeed as a character drama. The events of the plot are ultimately secondary to the effect they have on the characters. Sure, the plot matters and has an impact, but I didn't really find myself wondering 'ooh what will happen next' so much as I was wondering 'ooh how will Norah react in a way that will be destructive next?' Rose is a character who is initially frustrating, and I think that is very much intentional, because she is letting life (and mostly Steve Zahn) treat her like a doormat/whore (a whoremat if you will). Norah I never really much warmed up to. I can't say I hate her, but she is just an unreformed screw up. Most of the major problems that crop up for Rose are more or less directly because Norah is unreliable. I wouldn't try and tell you that Rose doesn't carry her share of the blame for her enterprises exploding in her face, but they probably wouldn't have if Norah could do anything right. Even at the end, rather than clean up her mess, Norah goes on a journey to 'find herself' and I just thought that was the lamest thing she could do after tanking Sunshine Cleaning.

This man has one arm. He is by far the most reliable member
of the cast, and the most capable.
Despite that, I was otherwise pleased with the ending. I'm not going to lie, I generally like a movie to end on a positive note (this rule can sometimes be amended, especially with horror movies). When things end without anything salvageable coming from it, I'm just left with a feeling like "Well then why did I bother watching this? So I could see fictional individuals learn nothing and fail at life?" Maybe some people are sadistic enough to really dig that, but I like there to be at least something positive at the end of the road. It doesn't have to be a fairy tale ending (what Wayne's World referred to as the 'Super Happy Ending') but something that doesn't totally invalidate my time investment in a movie. Yes Rose encounters failure and hardship, but she learns from it and in the end and uses that knowledge to start over, and you're left with the belief that she can succeed, and that her life, and the life of the other characters you've come to care about, will end up better off given the events of the movie.

They're totally going to make out later.
The movie does a balancing act between pretty heavy drama and a lighter comedic tone, and I think that thanks in large part to excellent performances from the entire cast it succeeds. I was never left with the jarring feeling of being jolted out of the movie by a poorly timed bit of humor, or some tasteless joke that ruined the movie's whole tone.  The writing felt a lot more consistent than what I usually experience in movies produced independently, and I certainly didn't mind that. Amy Adams and Emily Blunt do a stellar job of drawing you in and making you care about what's happening, even if none of it would be especially interesting by itself (okay how a person goes about cleaning a blood spattered crime scene is pretty interesting I admit it) and as mentioned earlier, my only disappointed moment was when Norah punks out at the end. Rose forgave her so I guess I should try to as well. Some day.

I can definitely recommend this movie, which is more than I can say for the movies I will be covering this Saturday. I don't want to give too much away, but I want you all to know that to write Saturday's post I re-watched Double Dragon. I hope you all understand how much that hurt me.
Amy and Emily clearly understand.

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