Sunshine Cleaning [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Anchor Bay Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (14th August 2009).
The Film

I’ve found that, more often than not, I’m becoming increasingly annoyed by today’s indie films. For starters, I loathe that term because it already bestows upon the film in question some level of “indie cred” simply because it is an independent film. Secondly, Fox Searchlight is the most egregious offender of this, these films are all marketed and promoted in the exact same way. For example, once the criminally overrated (and overwritten) “Juno” (2007) hit it big, it seemed like every indie film that followed made sure to spotlight aspects of itself such as quirky (but so, like, real!) characters, emo-loving indie bands that have no individuality and the ever-present cutesy fonts to make the poster stand out. Oh, and many of them featured Michael Cera, who may quite possibly be the least talented actor in Hollywood right now. But I digress. I’m not saying that some gems didn’t shine, but when your marketing approach has become so clichéd and overwrought that it turns off potential viewers, it’s time to reevaluate your approach.

“Sunshine Cleaning” (2008) seemed like it had the potential to be something different. Though the film was packaged in a similar manner to the indie darling “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006), which also featured Alan Arkin and had similar themes dealing with family and loss, the end result was something I found to be surprisingly refreshing and unexpected. So often, films of this ilk do their best to tug (sometimes violently) on the viewer’s heartstrings, ending up in exactly the place you expect them to go. Thankfully, this film doesn’t bend to genre conventions.

Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) seemingly used to have it all, but now the former captain of the high school cheerleading squad, and girlfriend to the popular quarterback, is a thirty-something who cleans homes for a living while trying to support her precocious eight year old son, Oscar (Jason Spevack). When Oscar is asked to leave his school for his abnormal (read: eccentric) behavior, Rose decides to start her own crime scene clean-up business to make ends meet. She enlists the aid of her cynical, jaded sister, Norah (Emily Blunt) to assist with the dirty work while her son is being watched by her snake-oil salesman father, Joe (Alan Arkin). Along the way the sisters don’t exactly strengthen their relationship, but they do open many emotional doors sealed shut by the suicide of their mother when they were just kids.

Amy Adams may technically be the star here, but I was really bowled over more by Emily Blunt’s performance as her nihilistic sister, Norah. It’s apparent that her mother’s death had a great impact on her development, as she is lost in life with little ambition to do anything about it. She lives at home with her father, quit her job at the local burger joint and has nothing to show for herself at this stage. You can sense that she wants more out of herself, but she has spent so much time being coddled by her older sister that she doesn’t know how to cope with reality. She’s one of those people who are great at dispensing harsh, blunt advice to others but she can’t stand the pain when it’s reciprocated and she is forced to look into herself.

I don’t want to sound as though Blunt completely overshadowed Amy Adams here, because she plays a similar character; their only difference being that because she has a child she’s been forced to make more of herself, even if it isn’t much. Everyone knows those people from high school who seemed to have it all, only to find out years later that they never did anything with their lives after everyone started moving on. There’s a rough moment when Rose is talking to a client whose home she just cleaned, only to find out it’s one of her old high school chums. The uncomfortable conversation that follows is testament to the fact that she is so embarrassed that this is her lot in life and, yet, she wants so much more. Whereas Norah has no motivation to better her situation, Rose has Oscar as a constant reminder that she can’t give up on herself.

What struck a chord with me most about this film is that it refuses to give in to what viewers expect. I’m not going to be spoiling anything here, but they don’t hinge any part of the script on dramatic deaths (aside from some flashbacks of their mother’s suicide), nor do they feel the need to end the film on a perfect note. I’ve always despised endings that wrap things up in a nice, neat little package. This is a film that deals with the harsh realities associated with childhood trauma and struggling to make it, so to end the film on a note of sheer elation would be counteractive to the entire picture that came before it. For example: Rose, after ending her adulterous affair with her former boyfriend, Mac (Steve Zahn), meets Winston (Clifton Collins, Jr.), the man who runs the store where she buys her crime scene cleaning supplies. There is a hint that something may be blossoming for the two, but the film doesn’t bash you over the head with sappy romance. It’s these genre-defying decisions that help to elevate the film above the level most viewers, such as myself, would have expected.

Video

The 2.40:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer certainly looks sharp and crystal clear, but I found the photography to be lacking in providing the picture with any real “pop” or three-dimensionality. Color reproduction looked slightly muted, but black levels looked very deep and rich. This is a film that takes place in a very urban environment, so I’m sure the lighting choices were intentional in order to convey that feeling of being stuck in a drab environment. Still, the image is undoubtedly high-definition and doesn’t feature any excessive film grain or issues such as DNR or noticeable edge enhancement to mar the overall image.

Audio

The English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround sound track mixed at 48 kHz/24-bit doesn’t do much to impress. This is a film that relies heavily on dialogue, all of which came through my system clean and clear, so job well done. There is very little in the way of music, so surrounds are rarely used aside from the odd ambient sound to fill things out a bit. Your subwoofer, however, will lie dormant throughout the film’s running time. Also included is a Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track. Subtitles are available for English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

Anchor Bay/Starz Home Entertainment has given “Sunshine Cleaning” a few features, including an audio commentary, featurette, the film’s theatrical trailer, bonus trailers and BD-Live, but I’m curious to know why the additional footage the film screened with internationally was not included. According to the IMDB page listing, the film ran for 11 more minutes in the European market. The omission of this footage is rather conspicuous, to say the least, as it would (possibly) have rounded out this package a great deal better.

The audio commentary with screenwriter Megan Holley and producer Glenn Williamson is a good listen, though it’s mostly standard fare. The duo discusses the nuances of each character, how each actor fit their respective roles, filming locations… that sort of thing. If you enjoyed the film then I’d recommend giving this a spin, otherwise you aren’t likely to glean much interesting information worth your time.

“Sunshine Cleaning: A Fresh Look At A Dirty Business” is a featurette which runs for 11 minutes and 17 seconds. This great little piece takes a look at two women who really do the job depicted in the film, providing viewers with an in-depth look at just how difficult the job can be. I’m really glad they chose to include something informative like this in lieu of a fluff EPK or brief behind-the-scenes featurette.

The film’s theatrical trailer runs for 2 minutes and 32 seconds.

Bonus trailers are available for the following titles also available on Blu-ray:

- “Henry Poole is Here” runs for 2 minutes and 20 seconds.
- “The Visitor” runs for 2 minutes and 32 seconds.
- “Sleepwalking” runs for 2 minutes and 32 seconds.

Finally, there is a BD-Live link available for profile 2.0 players which led me to an error page. Regardless, I’m almost positive this would contain the standard previews and promo material found on all Anchor Bay/Starz Blu-ray discs.

Overall

The Film: B Video: B Audio: B- Extras: C+ Overall: B-

 


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