Sunday, September 27, 2009

On DVD: "Sunshine Cleaning"

Sunshine Cleaning’s ads were eager to play up its connection to Little Miss Sunshine (it comes from several of the same producers), and like that film, it is perhaps too mannered and self-conscious in its quirkiness. Yes, Alan Arkin returns as another slightly unbalanced patriarch; yes, Clifton Collins Jr.’s character is missing an arm, for no real reason of consequence. But in spite of its occasional flights of fancy, the picture is grounded in a specific, lived-in reality; Megan Holley’s screenplay and Christine Jeffs’ direction are all about the understated details, and the film’s vivid impressions and small moments add up to a genuinely involving narrative.

Amy Adams might want to be a little careful about her screenplay choices—she’s got the adorable, plucky, determined gal down pat, and should perhaps start getting wary of repeating herself—but she’s might good here all the same, investing the leading role of Rose with just enough self-confidence for us to see that she’s drawing from a reserve that’s just about empty. She’s evenly matched with Emily Blunt, who manages to play the damaged, screw-up younger sibling as if it’s not a cliché; this is an increasingly interesting actress who is better each time I see her.

The vivid, believable quality of their performances help bring off a third-act crisis that I realized had totally sucked me in; Holley’s screenplay may not have a terribly inspired structure, but it plays every beat expertly. Its closing scenes are unexpectedly moving, and if the film’s final moments are a little pat, well, maybe they’ve earned them. The snark patrol dismissed Sunshine Cleaning, but to hell with them; this one is a likable, well-crafted winner.

"Sunshine Cleaning" is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray.

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