'Sunshine Cleaning' gets down and dirty with life and death

By Tatiana Craine

You are my (little miss) sunshine, you are my sunshine (cleaning), you make me happy when skies are gray. The producers of “Little Miss Sunshine” have teamed up again, sponsoring the new indie flick, “Sunshine Cleaning.”

What “Little Miss Sunshine” did for child beauty pageants, “Sunshine Cleaning” does for crime-scene clean up. Despite what some might say, the two films are awfully similar. They both bring seemingly mundane topics to a morosely comic and intellectual level. “Little Miss Sunshine” centers on a little girl aspiring to be a beauty queen while her father and uncle bicker behind the scenes. “Sunshine Cleaning” illuminates the relationship between two sisters running a business while a little boy tags along. There’s a flip on the focus between men and women in the films, but both stories have an enormous heart. And Alan Arkin.

The film follows a semi-dysfunctional family with economic, social, and romantic trouble. Amy Adams and Emily Blunt star as Rose and Norah, sisters with very different outlooks on life.

Rose is trapped. She’s in a loveless affair with a married cop, she’s got a dead-end job as a maid, and she has a little boy named Oscar (Jason Spevack) that’s a little too precocious for his own good. Though her sister Norah is gripped by reckless abandon and a penchant for smoking weed (even when babysitting her nephew), she’s very much in the same situation as her older sister. She just lost her job and finds herself stuck at home with her father (Arkin) who’s always searching for a quick path to fortune. Trying to find autonomy and a way to strike gold to pay for Oscar’s schooling, Rose delves into the untapped (economic) treasure of crime-scene cleaning. She ropes Norah into the business, and together, the two flounder around cleaning bloodstained mattresses and maggot-filled houses while dealing with the bittersweet memories of their late mother.

The “Sunshine Cleaning” cast shines brightly throughout the entire film. The cast members deliver stellar performances. Adams radiates as an anal and controlling, always cute and sometime sexy mom with issues. Blunt excels as a hipster-chic woman whose devil-may-care attitude loosely covers up the trauma she underwent as a young girl. Arkin, as in “Little Miss Sunshine,” carries his character with the same deadpan hilarity. Spevack warms hearts with perfect timing and an earnest performance not seen in many young Hollywood actors. Steve Zahn, Mary Ann Rajskub and Clifton Collins Jr. round out the cast as an emotionally flighty cop, a lesbian bloodbank worker and a one-armed cleaning supply storeowner.

“Sunshine Cleaning” seems a little sentimental at times, but it’s more of a character driven piece than anything, so it’s okay. A willing suspension of disbelief would benefit audiences when watching the film, but writer Megan Holley’s story still presents a touching, hilarious and emotional picture. Some have hailed “Sunshine Cleaning” as this year’s “Little Miss Sunshine” or “Juno,” which are both apt comparisons, but the film is able to stand on its own in indie-film territory. It touches on quirky subjects and dark themes that have never been introduced so freshly to the big screen. The tagline for the film, “Life’s a messy business,” rings true throughout the film as death stains and taints the characters’ lives. However, as only indie-chic characters know how, they overcome and try to find their own peace of mind. The film puts life and death into lighthearted and comic perspective without being too preachy or pretentious. Regardless of the weather outside, “Sunshine Cleaning” will make life quite a bit brighter, if only for an hour and a half.