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Sunshine Cleaning

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Sunshine Cleaning Movie Poster Image
Adult dramedy has unusual mix of laughs, gore, heavy themes.
  • R
  • 2009
  • 102 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 7 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Although the movie ultimately has a hopeful message and reinforces the importance of family ties, it's not exactly straightforward. Characters constantly disappoint each other, and there are many grim themes related to death and loss.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Despite many flaws, the family members are close, and they see each other through both ups and downs. But back to those flaws: A single woman continually hooks up with a married man, and another woman fails to honor a work commitment, leaving her sister/business partner to deal with a major accident. A grandfather means well but takes a long time to finally get his act together. Also, a child appears to be having a hard time adjusting to school, and his teachers seem quite harsh.


Only one scene actually depicts active violence -- a man commits suicide in public by shooting himself with a rifle in the first 15 minutes of the movie. But since the film is about a service for cleaning crime scenes, biohazards, etc., viewers see lots of the after effects of violence, including blood on mattresses, chairs, and other places; bits of brain and other flesh on the floor; and a severed finger. Another scene shows children discovering a woman who's slit her wrists. There are also a few loud fights.


A woman is shown trysting with a married man many times; she's usually wearing nothing but her underwear, and they kiss and grope each other. A man is shown grinding on a woman while she lies there, uninterested; he's shirtless, and she is, for the most part, clothed. A woman flirts with another by pretending to bite a necklace she's wearing.


A grown-up explains the meaning of the word "bastard" to a child and (affectionately) calls him that. Other words include several uses of "s--t" and "f--k," as well as "bulls--t," "dumbass," damn," "goddamn," and "oh my God."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A woman smokes pot. Some casual drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this dramedy, in addition to taking on mature themes like suicide and infidelity, is quite gory. The many post-death scenes include disturbing shots of things like pools of blood on ceilings, floors, and walls; human flesh awaiting clean up; and a brief flash of a suicide victim awaiting discovery. There's also lots of talk about death, and the fact that the adult characters are unable to find direction till the end clearly affects the one child in their midst. All of that said, the movie does have a lot of heart and, in the end, a hopeful message. But to get to the uplift, viewers have to endure a pretty grueling journey.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bywonder dove September 12, 2012


Sunshine Cleaning was pretty good and interesting if you like drama films with less action and more story. I would definitely call it a chick flick. Basically a... Continue reading
Adult Written bybeph September 16, 2009

funny and a good movie

i dont like a movie with drug references but everything else makes up for it. its cute realistic and funny. i have problems with the main character. she is inse... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bybubbleboy May 16, 2009

I Love You, Amy Adams

Seriously, there hasn't been a movie with her that I've seen that hasn't been good. I loved "Doubt," "Miss Pettigrew Live for a Da... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byflash11 December 29, 2010
I think that language is something that teenagers have heard before and that is not the problem. But there are different sex scenes in the movies where you can... Continue reading

What's the story?

Rose Lorkowski's (Amy Adams) glory days of cheerleading are long behind her, replaced by a job as a cleaning lady. Her son, Oscar (Jason Spevack), has been kicked out of yet another public school; her father (Alan Arkin) still can't get rich quick despite all his schemes. And her sister, Norah (Emily Blunt), just lost her waitressing job. Eager for a real career, Rose convinces Norah to help her start a business cleaning crime scenes -- Rose's high school boyfriend (Steve Zahn), a married cop with whom she's having an affair, has told her it pays so much more than regular housekeeping (enough for private school, perhaps). And for a moment, it seems sweeping up the blood and gore of lives gone awry is Rose's answer to a better life. But a clean slate isn't what's in store for her after all. Not unless she and her sister finally cleanse themselves of a haunting family heartbreak.

Is it any good?

Quirky and affecting, SUNSHINE CLEANING is a lovely dramedy bolstered by extraordinary performances. As she's done with previous roles as a nun and a real-life Disney princess, Adams brings loads of warmth and empathy to her role. And in Blunt -- who has the rare gift of being able to marry humor and sorry with ease -- she has a formidable partner-in-crime. Rounding out the main cast in a role that harkens back to Little Miss Sunshine (the two movies have the same producers), Arkin cements his place in celluloid history as the patron saint of flawed-but-loving grandfathers. They're damaged, but you feel for them nonetheless.

But here's the rub (or should we say scrub?): Sunshine Cleaning feels painstakingly put together and a bit contrived. Though director Christine Jeffs doesn't reveal the psychological scars branded on the family's psyche until almost the end, she hints at them a little too heavily (the slo-mo flashbacks, the gray visual palette, the mishaps -- and there are many!). And must everyone be so idiosyncratic? Even the former high school classmates Rose runs into at a baby shower seem larded with spite. Still, as blemishes go, these are hardly deal breakers. The film's loudly beating heart and strong performances will wash the doubts away.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether the movie's scenes of blood and gore have more impact because it's a comedy rather than a horror movie. Are these scenes scary, disturbing, neither, or both?

  • Families can also discuss the characters' search for a way out of their present condition. What drives them?

  • Though the central family is clearly dysfunctional, what's positive about their relationships? What is it about families that make them drive each other crazy but give each other hope, too?

Movie details

For kids who love quirky characters

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