Sunshine Cleaning (2008)

Director: Christine Jeffs
Runtime 91 minutes

Reviewed by: Jeanne Edson

What do we leave behind when we die? Most generally hope for a proud legacy, a large family, or some sort of honorable mark on the world to document their presence, however short. But the reality is that most of us just leave a mess – counting on someone to tidy up our shortcomings and perhaps some blood and guts.

That’s where sisters Rose (Amy Adams) and Norah (Emily Blunt) step in – newbies in the unusual and oddly personal business of biohazard removal/crime scene clean-up. Handling murders, suicides, and other passings, the two sisters drift into people’s apartments, homes, and lives to wash away any leftover blood and sadness for a refreshing mix of comedy and melodrama. Each encounter shows them how death and its indescribable loss is the deepest stain, one they themselves can’t bleach away.

Film Title: Sunshine Cleaning

As a young mother Rose is struggling to create a legacy, trying to fulfill the expectations created during her tenure as a high school cheerleading captain and girlfriend of the football quarterback. The girl who was seemingly so far ahead fell behind her classmates to the point where she has an affair with her ex-boyfriend and feels humiliated when she learns she’s cleaning a former classmate’s home. Norah struggles to live up to her sister’s expectations and is still reeling from their mother’s death during their childhood. She seems to reach for deeper connections and attempts to find exactly where her sisters expectations and reality meet. Together with their father (Alan Arkin) and Rose’s young son (Jason Spevack), you can feel how closely bound the family is…and also see how easy it is to hurt the people who love you most.

It’s honestly refreshing to see such a different and profound take on death in a comedic film. Christine Jeffs is able to create a truly intimate experience as you walk through the client’s home with Rose and Norah, eyeing nick nacks and sticky note reminders. As Rose explains, “We come into people’s lives when they have experienced something profound – and sad…But that’s the same. And we help. In some small way we, um, we help.” And to write your history as being a person to lend a hand in a time of need could be the most rewarding.

4 Stars

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