' Cinema Romantico: Sunshine Cleaning

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sunshine Cleaning

A Will Smith action movie screams Fourth Of July Weekend! Christine Jeffs' "Sunshine Cleaning" screams Must Have Premiered At Sundance! I, of course, don't mean to be so categorical (?) but what's true is true and it's true. "Sunshine Cleaning" premiered at Sundance and feels like it. One can only assume collegiate screenwriting courses these days have entire semesters devoted to the Sundance Formula and if this assumption is correct then one can also assume screenwriter Megan Holley took one of these courses and aced it.

It's a movie about two sisters. Rose (Amy Adams) is a single mother raising a precocious child and she's seeing her old high school boyfriend (Steve Zahn) on the sly because, you know, he's married and his wife is pregnant. Norah (Emily Blunt) is the "rebel". She lives at home, can't hold down a job, and wears crazy clothes combined with dark makeup. Their crusty father (Alan Arkin) is constantly concocting schemes designed to earn him quick cash that, needless to say, typically don't pan out. Oh yeah, there was also an unspeakable tragedy that befell his wife, their mother, that ever so neatly parallels the story's main plot point wherein Rose and her sister open (after a helpful tip from her old high school boyfriend who doubles as a cop) a business cleaning up crime scenes which is a neat idea that never realizes its true potential.

There is more that screams Park City, Utah, of course, like a helpful cleaning store employee (Clifton Collins Jr.) with one arm. I repeat, one arm. He makes model airplanes on the side. There is a scene where two characters are trapped in an elevator. I repeat, trapped in an elevator. (To be fair, it is a bit more inventive than your usual Trapped In An Elevator Scene, but still....I assume this also taught in screenwriting classes. Dramatic Confrontation In A Confined Spot.) There is a CB that allows you talk, sort of, to heaven (translation: delivery device for exposition). A hapless kitten leads to a house going up in flames (don't ask).

Boy, you're thinking, this guy really doesn't want me to see this movie. Oh, but I do! Nearly any movie can be redeemed if it possesses a great performance and in "Sunshine Cleaning" Amy Adams gives a great performance. She is young (34) and already a two time Oscar nominee. Who wants to bet she will have one before the end of next decade? Can you think of another actress who has successfully gone toe-to-toe with Meryl Streep, convincingly made "animal noises" with Will Ferrell, delivered what has to be considered one of the ten best cinematic monologues of the decade in "Junebug", and grounded a Sundance movie in reality? In fact, I think Amy (Adams) & Amy (Ryan) have officially become America's answer to Kate & Cate.

If this movie is a bit formulaic and indie-ized then Ms. Adams is authentic and authentic. I could try to write some schlocky sentence to summarize it but it's really beyond the reach of any prose. It must be witnessed. She is naive but not clueless. Good hearted but not a saint. She convinces us that she, the character, is making the decisions she makes. She doesn't always like her sister but she pretty much always loves her.

Emily Blunt is not in the same league. She seems like more of a scatter-brain than a bad-ass. Costuming alone does not do the trick. She also gets shortchanged on her subplot involving the daughter of a victim whose house they clean which is vastly underwritten. Alan Arkin's entire method, meanwhile, seems to consist of trying to look like Telly Svalas. Clifton Collins Jr., on the other hand, does a lot without much by not doing too much to cover up the fact he doesn't have a lot.

Not that it matters. "Sunshine Cleaning" belongs to Amy Adams. The credits claim it to be a Christine Jeffs Film. I beg to differ.

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