In “Sunshine Cleaning,” Amy Adams is a single mother with a delinquent sister (Emily Blunt) a sweet but odd son (Jason Spevack) and a cranky father (Alan Arkin, basically reprising the role he played in “Little Miss Sunshine.” I wonder if he ever gets tired of playing opposite precocious youngsters. Is this what a notable and illustrious career has come to? Feeding lines to 9 year olds?) She is a cleaning lady, and finds herself cleaning the houses of girls she looked down upon in high school, back when she was head cheerleader and dating the quarterback. Now the quarterback (Steve Zahn) is a cop, a married cop, a married cop with two kids, a married cop with two kids who is having an affair with his high school girlfriend. That would be Adams. When she is desperate for some cash (to put her expelled son in a private school,) he gets her work cleaning up crime scenes, which pays much better than cleaning up rich people’s houses. She takes that ball and runs with it.
Generally I discourage people from watching a movie because it has an actor or actress that they like in it. Moviemaking is more a director’s medium than an actor’s; the director has more influence on the tone, atmosphere, production and, as a result quality than any of the actors have. Meryl Streep, perhaps our greatest living actress, has been in some amazing movies, but she’s also been in some really terrible ones. But you always know a Martin Scorsese (perhaps our greatest working director) film is going to be worth watching.
And yet “Sunshine Cleaning” is so completely and thoroughly an Amy Adams movie, I’ve got to consider it an exception to the rule. If you like Amy Adams, you will like this movie. It bears all of her trademarks. It seems charmingly naive, basically sweet and endlessly sunny. It is these things sometimes even in spite of itself. It tries to be dark and edgy – there are trysts and a seedy motel, bloody crime scenes, lesbian love scenes, and suicide. But watching Amy Adams try to be dark and edgy is like watching a Mormon try to cuss. There’s just no feeling in it.