When you see as many high-octane, under-developed films as I do, it’s easy to be surprised when a truly great story comes your way. In fact, I am often overwhelmed at the artistry of a well-told film, almost shocked by the fullness of plot and character. The fact that so many of these wonderful films fall under the category “independent” is a sad testament to the state of Hollywood today. If a rich story cannot find backing from the major players in the industry, I fear for the future of cinema even more now than ever before. Thankfully, there are still producers within the film industry who are willing to bet their money that an audience does exist for good storytelling and honest performances without the need for gloss or a big bang. Sunshine Cleaning was a bet worth taking.
The premise of Sunshine Cleaning does nothing more than provide the setting for a deeper story of family and grief. Two sisters, played by the divine and inimitable Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, venture into the business of crime scene clean-up for the simple purpose of earning higher pay that will enable Adams’s single mom to send her son to a better and more suitable school. The scenes at their various work sites are simply props around which to address the relationship between the two sisters and to direct us into their mournful past. As a result of finding themselves in such gruesome settings, the women are able to address key elements in their lives that have been holding them back and keeping them down. In the process of cleaning up the aftermath of death, the sisters are able to find deeper meaning in life.
Adams and Blunt are two of our finest young actresses, and together they are extraordinary. The entire film rests on the two of them, and each brings a very specific tone to the film. Sunshine Cleaning is profound and it is sublime. There is depth in the film’s easy pace that never seems present in movies that make noise. For this reason alone, it is superior to any other story I’ve seen this year. There is truth and there is grace in every scene. And I had almost forgotten how that looked.