A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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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?
- In theaters: March 13, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: August 25, 2009
- Cast: Alan Arkin, Amy Adams, Emily Blunt
- Director: Christine Jeffs
- Studio: Overture Films
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 102 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language, disturbing images, some sexuality and drug use
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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