Elaine at the movies

Elaine Blum

The most distinctive feature of this movie is its premise: Two sisters start a business cleaning up crime scenes. The concept is startling and just a tad morbid, and thus refreshing and intriguing. This, coupled with the fact that the movie is from the same producers as “Little Miss Sunshine,” suggests that the film is worth a screening.
“Sunshine Cleaning” does not merely rely on a jarring premise, but also develops identifiable-yet-novel characters. The film boasts a talented cast: Amy Adams and Emily Blunt portray the sister entrepreneurs and Alan Arkin rounds out the cast as their father.
True, audiences have essentially already seen Arkin play this role. Yet again, he plays the well-intentioned grandfather who provides unique advice and life lessons. This is almost a reprisal of his character from “Little Miss Sunshine.” Not much ingenuity here, but it is enjoyable nonetheless.
On the other hand, both Adams and Blunt provide performances distinctive from any others in their respective careers. Blunt is perhaps most recognizable from “The Devil Wears Prada” and “The Jane Austen Book Club.” In both of these films her characters are snooty and have a hard exterior that eventually gets cracked through some set of circumstances. The usual moral: surprise, even people who put on a good show have insecurities.
What defines this particular role is that her vulnerability is what is most noticeable. Blunt plays the sister still trying to figure out who she is and what to do with her life. Is it just me, or is this all too easy to identify with as a college student? I rather enjoy the fluidity, irresolution, and uncertainty of this role and Blunt manages to deftly portray such complexities.
Adams likewise portrays a character markedly different from her usual repertoire. Audiences may most notably remember Adams as the embodiment of femininity in “Enchanted,” in which she flounces about and sings to squirrels – not the stuff of profundity. In contrast, Adams attempts a more real, complex character this time around. The result is somewhat heartfelt and a good attempt at conveying complexity, but the performance is not altogether convincing. Perhaps I am simply biased by the image of her as a na’ve singing princess, but Adams could stand to develop a broader emotional range and facial expressions to match.
The obvious fallibility of each character is also reminiscent of “Little Miss Sunshine.” Each character has his or her own faults and personal ambiguities. The film subtly suggests that some questions do not have clear answers; there are impossible moments in which getting through them is the most important goal. The ambiguity of the movie makes it more real and ingenious in comparison to those films that desperately attempt to effect a picture-perfect ending.
Finally, do not be intimidated merely by the premise’s implication of gore. Yes, the film does entertain morbidity and one of its points is that death is not always clean. However, the film manages this message with subtlety and finesse. It spares the audience from extensive gore and does not linger on disturbing images. In short, the film tastefully gets its point across.
I know it sets up an unfair comparison to judge “Sunshine Cleaning” in relation to “Little Miss Sunshine.” However, I am confident that if you enjoyed the latter, you will enjoy the former. Sure, “Sunshine Cleaning” does not include a family performance of “Super Freak,” but it has its own moments.