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Submitted by on March 13, 2009 – 8:15 pmNo Comment

Sunshine Cleaning,” is a lovely, sweet-spirited film, which was directed by Christine Jeffs from a strong debut screenplay by Megan Holley. Though the script requires the audience to suspend belief more than a few times, the director and her co-stars, Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, creates a gripping honesty to the story of two sisters trying to kick-start their lives.

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Both leading actresses in this film are brilliant in perfectly different ways.

Amy Adams switches from sweet to witty to radiant to quiet in a split second. She plays Rose Lorkowski, a single mother in Albuquerque who barely earns a living cleaning while dreaming of getting a real-estate license and imagining that her lover will leave his wife. Roses Achilles’ heal has been her need to please, but she develops a yearning for independence that gets her through a bizarre career of biohazard removal and crime-scene cleanup.

Emily Blunt (“The Devil Wears Prada”); is a comic whirlwind with a still, grave center. She plays Norah, the younger sister who lives with their father — he’s played by Alan Arkin — and who joins Rose, in her new business venture. Barbed and ironic, hard and vulnerable, Norah is a Midwestern version of what is known in Yiddish as a varbisint kvetch (unhappy person) who displeases herself by sabotaging life at every turn. Where Rose has learned to cover her sadness with good cheer, Norah, lacking any gift for concealment or desire for happiness, wears her grief on her sleeve.

Comparisons between “Sunshine Cleaning” and “Little Miss Sunshine,” are inevitable. “Little Miss Sunshine” had the broader canvas of a road trip and a stronger narrative engine, not to mention a VW bus that functioned as a comic character. It had an irresistible 7-year-old heroine, although Rose’s 8-year-old son, Oscar (Jason Spevack), is an endearing kid, too, and if there’s any way of resisting Rose and Norah I never found it. “Little Miss Sunshine” got there first with Alan Arkin’s lovably irascible grandfather; it wasn’t such a great idea to have him play a similar part again, except that he does it so damned well..

The sum of all the characters in this movie yields stirring result. In one case a lacerating argument following an accident yields a tender reconciliation in the women’s bathroom. The one element of “Sunshine Cleaning” that almost seems like a joke — the central premise of cleaning up after murders and suicides — is developed with a solemn (though often comic) respect for its deepest resonances. “We come into people’s lives when they’ve experienced something profound and sad,” Rose tells a group of chattering women who can’t begin to comprehend what a dear soul she is. “They’ve lost somebody, and we help. In some small way we help.”

In another scene that should seem like a bad joke, Rose speaks her heart to her dead mother via the long-dead CB radio in her ancient van. “You’ve missed out,” she says. “You’ve missed out on some really great stuff.” You’ll miss out on some really great stuff if you don’t see this surprising movie.

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