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All That Remains

A comedy about family that cleans up real nice

Amy Adams (left) scrubs up with Emily Blunt.

Sunshine Cleaning

Director:Christine Jeffs
Cast:Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Jason Spevack, Steve Zahn
Release Date:2009

Opens March 27

By Wendy Ward | Posted 3/25/2009

A man walks into a sporting-goods store with ammunition in his pocket, asks to check out a gun from the gun counter, pops the ammo in, sticks the end of the gun in his mouth, and pulls the trigger. Enter the chaos of cops followed by a cleaning crew. When Carl (Kevin Chapman, the guy with the best lines on Showtime's Brotherhood) from the cleaning company boasts how much he charges for such an elaborate job--brain matter in the fishing poles, dude--Mac the cop (Steve Zahn) takes note: There's good money for crime scene clean-up and he knows just the maid to do it.

That house cleaner is red-headed Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams), a single mother, sister, daughter, and real-estate school dropout. She's just doing her job when the woman writing her a check turns out to be a high school friend from the cheerleading squad. Adams applies the slightly resigned energy she displayed in Junebug to Rose's bright smile, which tries to hide her embarrassment. Afterward, Rose sits in her car, frantic that it might not start, as tears fill her eyes. She can't get away from the humiliation fast enough.

Sunshine Cleaning--written by first-timer Megan Holley and directed by Christine Jeffs (2003's Sylvia)--is funnier than it sounds, though. Not living up to what was once your potential isn't inherently humorous, but it is fun to watch characters find the amusing parts of situations that could very well be depressing, which captures just how fragile and wrong and human everybody is.

Rose's younger sister Norah (Emily Blunt) hasn't done much with her life, either. She lives with their father, Joe (Alan Arkin), who is always looking for a hustle, brokering shrimp for their favorite Mexican restaurant or selling his own sweet Fancy Corn. She also baby sits Oscar (Jason Spevack), Rose's 7-year-old son, with a subversive and fun-aunt hand, which doesn't help his discipline problem that gets him kicked out of public school. But seriously, who doesn't lick a wall at that age?

Private school tuition prompts Rose to ask her married lover Mac about the crime clean-up business idea and ropes Norah into her plan; laughter, freak-outs, and a severed finger mark their first job. Licensing information comes from Winston (Clifton Collins Jr.), the cleaning supplier with one arm, a back room full of model airplanes, a wide smile, and advice on stain removal.

After a violent domestic fight, a suicide, or when a shut-in dies alone, cleaning up the aftermath is a much more complicated job. And Rose understands that: She's touched to be a part of the healing and moving on process like when she takes a moment to sit on the porch with a woman whose husband took his own life. The work's effect on Norah is different; instead of feeling that she is doing something important, she seems taken by the things a person leaves behind. When she finds a dead woman's fannypack filled with photos of the woman's daughter, she befriends her, a young woman named Lynn (Mary Lynn Rajskub).

Norah is searching for an inner strength and so is Rose--responsibility aside, you get the feeling she's put her own wants and needs on the back burner. Adams brings out Rose's emotional dimensions and acts with her whole face: She laughs with her nose, cries with her chin, and tries to hide fear or hurt with her smile. Adams also gives Rose a steely reserve underneath and a work ethic--she's not afraid of getting dirty, but she wants her work to matter. That reserve is what gives Rose the courage to start a new business in direct competition with the city's established toxic removal service.

Costume design in contemporary movies can often be too subtle, but here it offers an authenticity as sincere as the characters. Rose wears the same jeans throughout the movie and dons an out-of-place green cocktail dress and dark brown leather jacket to a baby shower in the 'burbs, Norah's slacker uniform consists of checkered Vans and thermals with the neck cut out, and poppa Joe dresses up in sterling bolo ties. They look just like ordinary folk in Albuquerque, N.M., trying to earn a living. And these subtle costume touches, like everything else in the movie, hit all the right notes.

E-mail Wendy Ward

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