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Dirty Jobs: Sunshine Cleaning scrubs away memories of lesser movies 

Oh my god, and he left the toilet seat up, too!The unemployment picture may need to get a little worse before most of us would

click to enlarge Oh my god, and he left the toilet seat up, too!
  • Oh my god, and he left the toilet seat up, too!
Oh my god, and he left the toilet seat up, too!The unemployment picture may need to get a little worse before most of us would resort to cleaning up blood and organ tissue from crime scenes for a paycheck. Although I think we're getting there.

Sunshine Cleaning is a film about a pair of sisters who try to turn their lives around by making a killing, so to speak, from cleaning up after suicides, homicides and other bloody happenings. It's the kind of movie that one would think is inspired by recent economic chaos - if not for the fact that the film was made more than a year ago, and screened at Sundance in January 2008.

Amy Adams (an Oscar nominee for Junebug and Doubt) plays Rose, a single mom struggling to finance private school for her son. She's also preoccupied with rescuing her younger sister, Norah, played with conviction by Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada). Norah is a classic screw-up, bouncing from job to job until Rose makes her a partner in the crime-scene cleanup business. The results are predictably mixed.

Though the plot is predicated on the reality of death and dismemberment in everyday life, there's virtually no violence. Instead the focus is on the quiet emptiness that such loss brings to the lives of those left behind. And Rose and Norah are not just cleaning up after others. Both are haunted by loss in their own family. In that sense, each "cleanup" job is as much metaphorical as it is literal.

The producers use some of the same moves in Sunshine Cleaning that they employed in Little Miss Sunshine to great effect. There are moments of sublime humor and potent drama that hit you when you aren't expecting it. Alan Arkin returns as the crass-yet-loving family patriarch - almost the same role that won him an Oscar two years ago. Even the location in Cleaning is identical to Little Miss Sunshine; Albuquerque's dusty, impoverished underbelly provides the perfect backdrop for a meditation on hopelessness and death.

Most of the heavy lifting is done by Adams as Rose, whose face belies that of a woman constantly on the verge of laughter and tears. Rose was one step away from marrying into suburban homes and SUVs, but ends up marginalized. She finds it easier to wash out the gore than her feelings of failure. Arkin is reliable as usual in his role as Rose's and Norah's father.

Those are the veterans. It's the newcomer, Blunt, whose stock is flying highest in this picture. Americans haven't seen much of her unless you count the female 20-somethings who re-watch The Devil Wears Prada like 20-something men replay Star Wars. She's a U.K. actress whose strongest work has been on British television, but she may want to get a more experienced publicist after this role.

Some marginalized supporting characters weaken the film's impact at times. But they don't leave a permanent stain.

Sunshine Cleaning ★★★✩✩

Starring Amy Adams, Emily Blunt and Alan Arkin. Directed by Christine Jeffs. Rated R


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