Sunshine Cleaning (2009)

Ray of hope…

As we march unstoppably into blockbuster season, that yearly inevitability of bangs, bombs and bucks, it’s something of a relief to know that there is some sanctuary to be found amidst the fracas. Dotted between the budget-busting behemoths are smaller, quieter fare like Sunshine Cleaning, which is a powerful piece of cinema despite its diminutive size.

Rose (Amy Adams) is a single mother in Small Town USA, desperately trying to give her young son (Jason Spevack) the education that she never had but unable to afford private school fees on her cleaner’s wage. So Rose forms her own company, the ironically named Sunshine Cleaning, to break into the lucrative crime scene clean-up and biohazard removal scene, and ropes in the help of her reluctant, wayward sister Norah (Emily Blunt). The business soon becomes successful, but the tenuous relationship between the sisters combine with shadows from the past to threaten Rose’s longed-for future.

It’s those old-fashioned strengths of story and character that are behind Sunshine Cleaning’s simple but powerful appeal. Megan Holley’s script is, at turns, funny and movie but never less than believable, while Christine Jeffs assured, focused direction belies her relative lack of experience (prior to this she directed 2003’s Sylvia). But it’s the performances of Adams and Blunt, ably supported by the wonderful Alan Arkin as their dedicated father, that make the film, and give it its dramatic impitous. Although their bizarre cleaning business brings a macabre humour, the heart of the narrative is their far more straightforward sibling relationship, and how they are – both independently and together – trying to cope with the devastating curveballs life has thrown at them. As such, it’s their interactions that are the highlights of the movie; at times funny, frustrating and heartbreaking.

Touching on universally recognisable themes of grief, trust and ambition, all wrapped up in those binding family ties, the film retains an intensely personal focus thanks to its small town setting – where everybody really does know everybody’s business – and those pitch-perfect performances. And as a tribute to the strength of the human spirit, it’s a genuine pleasure from start to finish.

4 stars

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Stars Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin
Director Christine Jeffs
Screenplay Megan Holley
Certificate 15
Distributor Anchor Bay Entertainment
Running Time 1hr 31mins
Opens June 26