Sunshine Cleaning

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Starring Amy Adams and Emily Blunt. Rated 14A. Opens Friday, March 27, at the Park Theatre

In Sunshine Cleaning, two hard-luck sisters take a wrong turn in Albuquerque and everyone gets lost. Of course, the film’s producers thought they were following a reliable map; they previously made Little Miss Sunshine, and one even worked on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, so I sense a pattern.


Watch the trailer for Sunshine Cleaning.

A troubled New Mexico family yearning to shake off past failure? Check! An adorable tot too precocious to fit in? Check! A crusty grandpa filling the kid’s head with salty wisdom? Wait a minute—isn’t that Alan Arkin?

Yes, Arkin is back as a neglected patriarch with some screws loose, but he does it so well, you’re sorry when he leaves the screen. Also strong are Amy Adams and Emily Blunt as daughters Rose and Norah, respectively, who never got over their mother’s narratively convenient death. Newcomer Jason Spevack is Rose’s confused little boy, and Steve Zahn plays it straight as the married cop this single mom has been dating since high school—her high point in status and potential.

Rose depends on Post-it-note affirmations and a sugary smile to get through each dreary day. Younger Norah is a tattooed cynic who sees only gloom ahead. So they’re the perfect pair to start a biohazard-disposal company, mopping their way through the lucrative streak of murders, suicides, and gruesome accidents making Albuquerque America’s new epicentre of violent deaths—not that anyone in Megan Holley’s shallow script seems to notice or care.

New Zealand–born director Christine Jeffs, who also handled the ill-advised Sylvia, clearly enjoys empty desert vistas and pink-stucco nightmares. But she leaves it entirely to her able cast to flesh out roles that never made it beyond the “Let’s spread some more indie Sunshine” stage. There are two scenes in which characters use a CB radio to talk to heaven; don’t say you haven’t been warned.

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