A solid if unoriginal indie flick with moving performances and a tight, quirky script is what I had hoped to see at the movies. Instead, I saw Sunshine Cleaning, which plays like an idea trying desperately hard to find a story.
The film follows Rose Lorkowski, played by Amy Adams, a down on her luck single mother in Albuquerque who makes ends meat by cleaning houses. Rose’s sister, Norah, is a former punk-kid who never grew up, can’t hold down a job, and lives with their idiosyncratic father, played with respectable charm by Alan Arkin. When Rose’s police officer boyfriend, who is married, tells her how much money there is to be made in cleaning up messy crime scenes, a lightbulb goes off and the tiny glint of a plot begins to form. Of course, the two sisters start a business cleaning up crime scenes while dealing with their own emotional hangups.
You’ve seen this movie before, which wouldn’t be so bad if Cleaning brought anything original to the table. Everything, from the mopey starlet to the plucky soundtrack; the misunderstood child to the busted up van; the accidental lesbian to the bathroom motivational speeches, it’s all very familiar in that eye-rolling kind of way (see below). Amy Adams does give a good performance, but it’s not great. She is an incredibly talented actress capable of much more than taking off her makeup and putting on a sad face. I am convinced will have a bright future as a leading lady, probably more in the direction of a Julia Roberts rather than a Rachel Weisz, but this blip is not the kind that raises her “street cred” more than a half notch.
All of the problems lie in the script, however, which hands the entire cast very little to work with. The brilliant Alan Arkin is left bumbling about with nothing to grasp onto, try as he might. Instead of any characters being developed or learning anything, they stare off into distances or yell into train tracks, classic American indie fare. The only redeeming factor, for me, was Steve Zahn, the policeman boyfriend, whose character leaves the film as soon as he is given the opportunity to become interesting.
That really is the final word on this film. Everything ends as soon as it is allowed to grow. I could go on and on about this movie, but the bottom line is this: we deserve better. Take Amy Adams out of this movie and you would never have had a wide release. There are so many good movies being made out there, yet this is what rises to the top? Come on. I’ll let Tina Fey sum it all up for me: