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Sunshine Cleaning (2008)

Anchor Bay Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/18/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/18/2009

In the past, I've written about how much I hate spoilers and try to avoid them. It's not easy, but I usually manage to do it. However, sometimes, without even going out of my way, I simply don't know much about a movie. Either because the movie didn't get much (or any) publicity, or because I mistakenly assumed that I knew about the movie. Sunshine Cleaning falls into that latter category. I read a brief description of the movie somewhere and thought that it was a comedy. I was wrong.

Amy Adams stars in Sunshine Cleaning as Rose, a single-mother who works as a maid. When her son, Oscar (Jason Spevack), gets in trouble yet again at school, a private school is recommended. Therefore, Rose needs to find a way to make more money. She's convinced her father, Joe (Alan Arkin), and her sister, Norah (Emily Blunt), that she's attending classes to get her real estate license, but she's really been sneaking out to have trysts with her high school boyfriend, Mac (Steve Zahn), who is married. Mac tells her that the companies which clean crime scenes make good money, and he's able to get her one of the jobs. As Norah is unemployed, Rose convinces her to help. Soon, the two are learning the ropes on how to clean blood and other biohazards. A friendly cleaning supply store owner named Winston (Clifton Collins Jr.) helps Rose learn the ropes. Will this gruesome new career be the path to a better life for Rose, Norah, and Oscar?

Sunshine Cleaning is an amazing little movie. As noted above, it's not a comedy, and now I'm not sure why I ever thought that it was. (After watching the movie I told a friend that it wasn't a comedy and she had the same reaction, so I'm not alone in this one.) Now, that's not to say that there aren't a few amusing moments in the movie, because there are, but it's not the dark comedy which I'd expected.

Actually, the movie isn't anything which it appears to be on the surface. When I realized that it wasn't a comedy, I assumed that the focus would then shift to Rose and Norah's unusual job of cleaning crime scenes, but the movie isn't really about that either. Yes, this idea propels the narrative, but it isn't the backbone of the movie.

So what is Sunshine Cleaning, you may be asking. At its core, it's a character study and a very moving drama which examines the working-class in America. While the idea of mopping up blood may seem unusual, the story itself settles into the mundane lives of those who are merely trying to squeak by everyday. The characters here are richly layered and we learn a great deal about them. Rose was once a beautiful high-school cheerleader who dated a football player, but those years are behind her now and she finds herself cleaning the houses of her former classmates. She loves Oscar, but she's constantly having to leave him with Joe or Norah. Norah simply comes across as depressed, as she's never fully recovered from a family tragedy which occurred when she was a child. She finds herself becoming emotionally overwhelmed while cleaning the crime scenes. Joe is constantly involved in get-rich-quick schemes, and we learn from Rose that he has a history of making promises which he can't keep. As the story progresses, we watch these characters interact with each other and those around them and we see their daily struggle get harder and harder. While Rose and Norah struggle to clean up the mess which death leaves behind, they fight each day to make it through life.

The outstanding script by Megan Holley is made all the better by the cast. Amy Adams proves once again that she can do drama just as well as she can play bubbly and happy. While she's still quite attractive, she plays Rose as very plain and dowdy. We see the years of pain on her face, but she comes across as a truly nice person (despite the affair) and we want to see her succeed. Emily Blunt proves that she can play depressed very well and her lack of energy juxtaposes well with Adams natural buoyancy. Alan Arkin is apparently determined to transform his career into a state where he corrupts young children in movies which have the word "sunshine" in the title.

If you can't already tell, Sunshine Cleaning really took my by surprise. I was expecting it to live up to its title, but what I found instead was a poignant and emotional film. This is one of those little movies with a simple plot which sucks you in in minutes and takes you along for an emotional ride. The interesting idea of the biohazard removal keeps this from being just another slice of life movie and the emotional depth to the characters and story ensure that the film is never boring.

Sunshine Cleaning attempts to get used to the smell on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, as it shows no over grain and no defects from the source material. However, the first thing that you'll notice about Sunshine Cleaning is that it's dark. This is the kind of dark which makes you double-check the settings on your HDTV to make sure that the kids didn't touch them. The colors look good and the level of detail is nice, but the darkness can't be overlooked. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. Overall, this is a quiet movie, but there is some evidence of good sound. The stereo and surround effects are good when they need to be, such as street scenes, or most notably, during a fire. They never overpower the dialogue, but merely add a realistic element to the movie.

The Sunshine Cleaning Blu-ray Disc contains only three extras. We get an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer Megan Holley and Producer Glenn Williamson. "Sunshine Cleaning: A Fresh Look at a Dirty Business" (11 minutes) contains an interview with two real-life biohazard removal experts, who critique the movie and then describe what their job is really like. We get to see them at work. The final extra is the TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long