"We come into people's lives when they have experienced something profound - and sad. And they've lost somebody, you know? And um, the circumstances, they're always different. But that's the same. And we help. In some small way we, um, we help."
Directed by Christine Jeffs (Sylvia) and written by Megan Holley, Sunshine Cleaning is one of those small indie films with big performances and a feel good story that allows the audience to connect with its characters. It's hard to resist despite its cliches and flaws, given it has very strong lead performances from Amy Adams and Emily Blunt and very well written female characters that are rare to find making it hard not to sympathize with them. This is a solid indie that manages to balance really well the dark humor with the drama. Many people might have issues with the forced ending, but the emotional detail that Blunt and Adams give to their characters makes this a film worth watching. A lot of credit must be given to screenwriter Holley for creating such strong and believable female characters in a lead role which are really rare to find nowadays. The performance from the cast only enhances this aspect of the film making single parenting look as hard as it really is. The film wouldn't have worked if it weren't for the performances and the balance in shifts of tones between humor and drama which Jeffs found.
Rose (Amy Adams), a single mother to her seven year old son Oscar (Jason Spevack), is a responsible and hard working parent who is making a living as a house cleaner while she is trying to find time to finish her studies to become a real estate agent. Her sister, Norah (Emily Blunt), is a free spirited woman who finds it difficult to hold on to any job as she continues to live with her father Joe (Alan Arkin). Norah and Rose haven't had a normal childhood since their mother committed suicide when they were still very young. Being the older sister, Rose had to grow up as the responsible child. She was successful in High School but her glory days seem to be behind her as she now has to settle to having an affair with her teenage sweetheart Mac (Steve Zahn) who is now a married cop. When her young son is expelled from yet another school, Rose tries to come up with more money to put him into a private school. Mac tells her how the people who clean up after crime scenes make a lot of money, so she decides to start her own business with her sister and thus begin cleaning up after messy and bloody crime scenes. The cleaning business will also lead Rose and Norah to clean up some of the emotional distress from their past as they begin to recall them through familiar situations.
Sunshine Cleaning might be considered as simply another feel good indie film that tries to manipulate the audience through a roller-coaster of emotions while seeming to tie everything up perfectly and neatly at the end. This forced ending might be a let down, but I found it to work thanks to the amount of time invested in the lives of these unique characters. Adams and Blunt both are superb here as they deliver strong performances and add a lot of emotional depth to their characters. Clifton Collins Jr also gives a memorable performance as a possible future love interest for Rose, but the story really focuses on her as she struggles to manage the different challenges life throws at her. She is a reminder to all of us that life is worth living despite the struggles that we may be forced to go through, and that perhaps those small simple moments are the ones that make our lives a better place. Rose continues to stay positive despite the obstacles she faces and realizes that life is worth living despite it all. The monologue she delivers near the end of the film summarizes what this film was all about. Kudos to the director and screenwriters for presenting us with two strong female characters and allowing them to be the heart and soul of the film.