September 21, 2009

A do-it-yourself job

The wonderful and luminous cast, writer and director of "Sunshine Cleaning" deserve the intro to this review:

Emily Blunt as Norah Lorkowski
Amy Adams as Rose Lorkowski
Alan Arkin as Joe Lorkowski
Jason Spevack as Oscar Lorkowski
Cliffton Collins Jr as Winston
Mary Lynn Rajskub as Lynn
Steve Zahn as Mac, the jock
Christine Jeffs director
Megan Holley writer

Albuquerque, New Mexico, the backdrop for this film, as a sort of reverse allegory for a lost world, real only for those who live it. Unseen by the rest of the world. Desolation-isolation-abandonment-forgotten.

How much of the population lives in the fracture between New York and Los Angeles? It's such a huge country, so much distance in between, one can´t help feeling emptiness prevails in the attempt to supersede destiny.

Sunshine Cleaning: in this lost world,  a single mom, her child, her sister, her father endure. Ramshackle, run down, struggling with their lives, their loves, their losses, their souls. I suspect the new middle class. Before, you´d have said lower middle class with a whiff of trailer park trash thrown in.

Amy Adams as the calmly frazzled mom, Rose, trying to walk tall and proud with the "girl men want but won't marry" stigma. Works as a cleaning lady, or maid, as its glibly referred to in the film. Cleaning the homes of the "American Beauty" smug housewife-types, although definitely minus any East/West coast chic. A wistfully eccentric younger sister, Norah, played by the always charismatic Emily Blunt. Seemingly untouchable. Aloof? Snobbish? Possibly. Her eyes reveal nothing; opaque somehow. Interesting mix. Seems consistent in all her roles. Spine of steel with rare glimpses of vulnerability. So the "lost" affect surfaces in a very believable way when Norah has to go out on her own on a job.

When Rose's son gets kicked out of school because of "abnormal" behavior (his Aunt Norah tells him scary stories about limping lobsters that lick mailboxes and decides to find out why the attraction. Licking his teacher's leg being the last straw in a longer list of, in the school's view, "Martian Child" behavior. )

"Don't worry", Rose reassuring herself as much as Oscar, her 8-year-old son. "You'll never have to come back here again. I'll figure it out", desperation written on her face as she realizes a good paying job is essential to secure a place for him in a private school. Through her lovers' contacts, a married cop, played by Steve Zahn, she and her sister go rogue and start up a a biohazard removal/crime scene clean-up service. Hence the title "Sunshine Cleaning". "More upbeat", as Rose proudly declares, distributing her business cards.

That set-up might have led the director, Christine Jeffs, to exploit the situation for forced comedic moments.  Instead, she relied solely on the characters just doing what they have to do to get by, portrayed with conviction and honesty. A bit of the unlikeliness of steel workers trying a Chippendale's (The Full Monty) and running with that tender against-all-odds spirit .

Alan Arkin, with a diluted reprisal of his "Little Miss Sunshine" role, here less central but still essential to the story.  He is sad and slightly pathetic in his attempts to make money in odd ways.

I guess the parallels to "Little Miss Sunshine" lie in the respective quest for self-respect. "Sunshine Cleaning" relies on less dysfunctionality, more on low-pitched determination.

The poor girls are the cool chicks. The rich bitches who hire Rose to clean their homes are the losers.

No hyperboles here. Its all real.

Of course, a marketing ploy when the poster reads "from the producers of Little Miss Sunshine" and the intentional similarities in titles. The trailer is somewhat misleading as the funniest moments are compiled in the two minute clip. Seeing it a second time, made me realize I sold it to friends as  comedy.  When actually, it was sad. But upbeat sad, if that makes any sense. Funny, sad, up, down. Like real life.

So, if the marketing strategy generates a bigger box office take, I'm all for it.

I loved this film. And in my ratings it gets an "awesomeness reigns" certificate.

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