Friday, June 26, 2009

Sunshine Cleaning

Partners in Crime

With the last cinema outing being the obnoxiously loud, logic defying and a disgrace of the summer blockbuster genre in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, what a pleasant trip it was to bask in Sunshine Cleaning, scrubbing away the rubbish and all remnants of a forgetable, mindless movie, and trading it for something more intelligent, and with plenty of heart to boot.

It's relatively easy to dismiss this as a chick flick, given that the story's by Megan Holley with Christine Jeffs at the directing helm, and stars what would possibly be the female up-and-coming stars in Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, but you'll be doing yourself no favours should you have any preconceived notions that it should be light and chirpy. There are some easily identified emotional issues here that would strike a chord in you, and there's plenty of real world sensitivities built into the characters that make them an absolute delight to follow and spend time with.

We would probably know about some good looker who would probably be expected to get ahead in life as doors would be opened without great effort, and from then on how everything in a fairy tale would likely be unfurled as per societal perception. Then again for Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams), being the school's hottest cheerleader didn't prep her for a life amongst the working class, juggling a modest housekeeping job, and being the single mom to a precocious son Oscar (Jason Spevack), born out of wedlock, and having a knack for getting himself into trouble at school.

As if that's not enough, she has to find real cash fast to put Oscar into special school, while also nannying around her kid sister Norah (Emily Blunt), someone who drops out in life and every single thing she does, besides getting high, relying on Rose and their dad Joe (Alan Arkin) to look out for her. And to top it all, she's in for a romantic disaster as she enjoys a sexual relationship with a married cop (Steve Zahn), who provided her the lead that crime scene cleaners do earn a more than decent wage per assignment. That could prove to be her breakout from a rut, of being stuck in a vicious circle of a career, and promises that are heading nowhere.

One might find the subject matter a little morbid, and the characters too have their apprehension prior to making that career switch. But then all the corpses have been removed, and their job is to scrub down the designated premises. Simple as it may sound, it does involve a bit of a know-how, and a pretty good scrubbing brush to get rid of stains, remnants, and even the memory of someone who once was there.

There are plenty of small story arcs that swirl around the characters, each drawing substantial development rather than being introduced for the sake of. It boils down to shrewd and witting writing in having excellent dialogue bringing out plenty, never relying on the thought that it's essential to have everything verbatim and on screen. It's paced very evenly and doesn't count on gimmicky big moments, instead choosing to unravel itself little at a time without making you anticipate something that will throw everyone into a frenzy. You could be one step ahead, and part of the narrative magic is to elicit a sense of satisfied joy when the story hits all the right notes.

In particular, I loved the Mum arc, about searching for that distant memory to hold on to, and having to invest a lot of effort for that perennial needle in the haystack. How this developed, from a puzzle to its revelation, is nothing short of moving, especially when it had repercussions on the Lorkowski family. And the other arc on Norah trying to befriend a stranger, with bittersweet result. Ultimately, it's a story on the building of self-esteem and self-belief, a thread that concerned all characters, and make them matter. The sprinkling of comedy never for a moment detracted the audience from its intended message, and from cleaning supplier Winston (Clifton Collins Jr.) to Alan Arkin's Joe, it reinforces the notion that one shouldn't give up and must persevere, as only the tough gets going when the going gets tough, physical deformity notwithstanding.

while promotional materials might scream Little Miss Sunshine, this film is only remotely similar with family members, Alan Arkin, a young kid and their collective problems that they have to deal with. It's its own movie, and has a thoroughly enjoyable, heartwarming story that will wow you with its honesty, and a definite breath of fresh air amongst this summer's noisy blockbusters. Highly recommended and a contender too to be amongst my favourites this year.

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