It’s almost too easy to draw comparisons between Sunshine Cleaning and recent entries to the newly minted category of, for lack of an official name, “quirky indie films.” They all have in common a quiet, quaint sense of humor that sets them apart from boisterous big-budget comedies. Sunshine Cleaning, directed by New Zealand-born Christine Jeffs, follows in this vein in its own way.
The fun subgenre has not yet worn out its welcome, since it hasn’t been around long enough to form its own clichés. Though Sunshine Cleaning isn’t breaking any boundaries or challenging the status quo, it has frequent small moments of originality that make it shine.
The film follows sisters Rose and Norah, played with charisma by Amy Adams and Emily Blunt respectively. They both lament their monotonous blue-collar work until they suddenly find themselves without it. They concoct a plan to turn their manual labor skills into a lucrative business of the diplomatically phrased “crime scene cleanup.“
The two women unavoidably become entangled in the lives of their clients, most of which have recently lost a loved one in a violent way. Rose thrives at helping this kind of situation; she is the type of fixer who can’t fix her own life, remaining in a stagnant affair while trying to raise a kid. Norah is less emotionally accessible and more likely to compartmentalize than face troubles, but she finds ways to reach these unexplored caverns with the help of a new friend she meets through the job.
The film manages to deftly bring to the forefront the talents of its two leads. Adams, with her comfortable established pattern of cheerful characters, presents Rose as distinctly both a realist and an optimist. Blunt’s opposing nihilism creates a stark contrast. Together the actresses are more than the sum of their parts. What results is the brightest part of the movie: a believable sister relationship that refrains from stooping to uncomfortable confessions of love, need and mutual dependence. The love is there, but it’s all in the subtleties.
Sunshine Cleaning is playing now at the Varsity Theater on 2nd Street.
LAURA KROEGER can be reached at email@example.com.