I should hate this movie, but I just can’t. I should hate its truncated screenplay, its stock characters, and its completely unconvincing ending, and I sort of do, but not enough.
There’s no doubt that the script for Sunshine Cleaning is, if not bad, then certainly incredibly uninteresting. Basically the story of two women down on their luck who start cleaning crime scenes to earn extra money, it’s earnestly written, and it’s clear first-time screenwriter Megan Holley loves her characters an awful lot. In a few spots she knows exactly what to have her characters say at exactly the right moment, but otherwise the dialogue is serviceable, but not terribly interesting. Structurally, though, everything is shoved so forcefully into the three-act structure, particularly at the beginning, that it’s more jarring than comfortable.
After awhile, though, the cast starts to win you over, Amy Adams in particular. This should come as little surprise to anyone who’s been going to the movies for the last few years, but Amy Adams is awesome. If the screenplay is earnest, Adams is so wholeheartedly. Completely throwaway moments like Rose (Adams) accidentally running into a friend from high school or her reaction to a compliment on her hair are completely infused with life, and scenes that in any other actress’ hands would be unbearably corny (I’m looking at you, CB radio to Heaven) are genuinely touching.
Emily Blunt and Alan Arkin also do well in extraordinarily stock roles (and Arkin’s is one he’s played before, but as my girlfriend said, it looks good on him). Blunt’s burn-out with a heart of gold and a shot at redemption is less convincing, but not for lack of effort; she just has a lot of ground to cover and make believable.
Walking out of the film, I commented that I liked it in spite of itself, and that holds. It’s a fundamentally flawed film, but the cast and evenhanded direction elevate it to an effective, warm little comedy.