Rose, (Amy Adams) who makes her living cleaning houses, and her quirky sister Norah (Emily Blunt) need to make more scratch--one of the reasons being that Rose's young son, Oscar, has to go to private school because he got kicked out of public school for licking the walls, licking the teachers, etc. The married guy Rose has known since high school days--and is currently having discreet sex with--is a cop, and he inspires the sisters to start their own lucrative crime scene clean-up service. It's a bloody job, but somebody's got to do it, and Norah and Rose make mopping up after murders and suicides as humorous as that sort of thing can be. Their Dad (Alan Arkin) raised the sisters on his own after their mother took her own life, so doing this kind of work brings up some emotional issues for them.
Just when you think the flick is going to go along like your run-of-the-mill dark comedy, something touching occurs. Rose comforts an elderly woman who's husband has just ended his life, and she begins to feel COMPASSION and EMPATHY for another person. This is the juncture where Sunshine Cleaning makes the unexpected leap forward into something altogether artistic and human.
Norah is an intriguing character in her own right. She scrambles up under a railroad trestle and plays chicken with the train that's thundering toward her. Another powerful scene. We observe that Norah is an adrenalin junkie--she just wants to FEEL something--probably due to the emotions she's repressed about her mother for so long.
The movie was produced by some of the same bunch that produced Little Miss Sunshine,
with Alan Arkin being the one holdover from that film, in which he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. As the dad, he's a schemer and a dreamer, and those traits will figure into the ending of the picture-though his role here isn't large enough to garner a repeat of Oscar recognition.
Rose and Norah are looking for some closure, and as they move toward it, they get opportunities to gain some insight into themselves as well (such as Rose's true feelings about being good enough to be someone's sexual partner, but not good enough to be anyone's life partner).
The best films are the ones that can make you alternately (or simultaneously) laugh and cry,
and Sunshine Cleaning gets the job done.
TIMMY'S TIDBITS: Amy Adams once worked as a hostess at Hooters (guess she thought it was classier than working at that place called "Boobs." )
Back in the day, Alan Arkin was lead singer of the folk group, The Tarriers. He co-wrote Harry Belafonte's huge hit "The Banana Boat Song" (or "Day-O" for those of you who know the lyrics but don't pay any attention to the title).