Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Review of Sunshine Cleaning

So, how about a review that's current? Here you go...

This review appears in the April issue of ICON and is reprinted with permission. (Thanks, Trina.)

Is Amy Adams one-dimensional? The thought had occurred to me since my girlfriend and I saw Doubt, which left her with one significant complaint: She couldn't stand Adams' syrupy sweet, golly-gee persona.

It's doubtful Adams will start playing hard-as-nails broads anytime soon. She's become a star for portraying a broad variety of scatterbrains. She landed her first Oscar nomination playing a rural dope longing for love in Junebug (2005), then became a star playing a misplaced princess in 2007's Enchanted. In 2008, aside from landing a second Oscar nomination for Doubt, she was a ditzy, love-confused starlet in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.

I don't consider Adams annoying, just very gifted at playing a type, the same way that Jack Lemmon excelled at playing ordinary men, or that no one plays a loser quite like Steve Buscemi. Adams has found her overmatched niche, which she uses to her benefit in Sunshine Cleaning, an offbeat comedy/drama from Christine Jeffs about a family in flux.

Adams plays Rose Lorkowski, a single mom in Albuquerque whose life has run out of potential. You can see it in the opening scenes, where she reads the affirmations stuck to her bathroom window. They're there, but Rose reads them out of daily obligation, like brushing her teeth or making breakfast. Then she leaves for "class," a euphemism for motel sex with her now-married high school beau (Steve Zahn), which is more a grasp at her storied past than the need for companionship.

After all, the present is unbearable--a job cleaning the homes of more successful classmates, a sister (Emily Blunt) and a father (Alan Arkin) who both can't grow up, and a son (Jason Spevack) whose behavioral problems necessitate private school, an impossibility given Rose's cleaning lady salary.

Rose springs into action, using her connections. The ex-boyfriend Mac (Zahn) once told her how the folks who clean up crime scenes make a fortune. A phone call later and Rose and sister Norah are cleaning blood-stained walls and lugging a seedy mattress to the Dumpster. The sisters' world opens up. By accident, Rose discovers her calling, while Norah tries to find her soul, forging a friendship with the estranged daughter (Mary Lynn Rajskub) of a departed "client."

Blunt (Anne Hathaway's bitchy co-worker in The Devil Wears Prada) and Adams are given free range to find their characters' centers, and both succeed wonderfully. Rose learns to handle success and finds her confidence, but has to deal with her floundering ways. The great charm of Adams' performance is you feel she never triumphs; she's just hanging on for the ride. Norah tries to find a bond that's been missing since her mother's suicide, reaching out to a stranger who has that in common. She's a free spirit who needs to be reigned in, and Blunt wins you over with her struggle. You like her character even when you don’t like the decisions she makes.

Director Jeffs and writer Megan Holley exercise uncommon restraint, giving us enough clues to draw our own conclusions. We know, without ever being told, that these characters have seen better days and that the little things matter. The best example is when Rose hits it off with the guy at the janitor supplies store (Clifton Collins Jr.). We see the direction their relationship is headed, but not a firm conclusion. It's a move that's in line with the movie's stance to show the characters in the most human of terms. Rose's life is barreling along, so when is she going to find time to start a relationship?

Given Sunshine Cleaning's attention to detail and care for its characters, the movie never quite comes together. The reason is Arkin, who plays a less randy version of his grandfather role in Little Miss Sunshine. Only this time he's exploring get-rich-quick schemes with his grandson. Their scenes play like they're from a different movie, while Arkin's appearance makes you think the movie will borrow Little Miss Sunshine's frenzied wackiness (it never does). The worst part is that Arkin's character is so far removed from his daughters' storylines that the movie's momentum stops cold anytime he enters the proceedings.

Arkin's presence prevents a good movie from becoming great, but Adams shows she belongs to be in a star vehicle, not pushed out from it.

No comments: