It has become a genre all its own: the dysfunctional-family indie comedy, a staple of film festivals and art-house theaters alike.
Done wrong, and these movies can seem too self-consciously quirky (and by now, “quirky” feels like a word that was created especially to describe this kind of film). Done right, and you’ve got a “Little Miss Sunshine” or a “Juno” on your hands.
“Sunshine Cleaning” falls into the latter category — and its producers happen to have been behind “Little Miss Sunshine,” as well.
Both films share an Albuquerque, N.M., setting and Alan Arkin as a lovably outspoken father and grandfather. But really, that’s where the similarities end; despite its perky title, “Sunshine Cleaning” is much darker as it ventures simply and realistically into suicide, adultery and loss.
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Amy Adams and Emily Blunt have great chemistry as Rose and Norah Lorkowski, underachieving sisters who stumble into the crime-scene cleanup business.
Rose recruits her unemployed sister, but Norah isn’t quite so enthusiastic about washing blood from murder scenes and airing out trailers that reek of decomposing corpses — that is, until she finds an unexpected connection with the daughter of one of these victims.
But the overall lack of sentimentality in first-timer Megan Holley’s script and straightforward direction from Christine Jeffs keep the film from becoming too predictably feel-good; at the same time, the strong performances help elevate among similar fare.
Adams and Blunt have a subtle and believable sibling dynamic; Adams allows the weightier side of her talent to emerge, which makes her seem like a grown-up for the first time. The always-alluring Blunt, meanwhile, continues to show her versatility.
Arkin is a cantankerous hoot in a role similar to the one that earned him a supporting-actor Academy Award for “Little Miss Sunshine”: a widower peddling various products from the trunk of his junker car and doling out half-baked advice to his grandson.
Turns out the business of death forces them all to figure out what really matters in life.