March 31, 2020
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Despite mix of subplots, focus stays on ‘Sunshine Cleaning’ protagonist

In theaters

SUNSHINE CLEANING, directed by Christine Jeffs, written by Megan Holly, 102 minutes, rated R.

“Sunshine Cleaning” stars Amy Adams as Rose, a single mother trying to make it in the world while keeping her dignity intact and her family in check.

Rose’s day job is spent unfulfilling her potential by cleaning homes for those wealthier than she, such as former high-school girlfriends who are startled when they realize that it’s Rose scrubbing their toilets and who then try to stifle their surprise with an awkwardness that’s palpable.

Rose’s side job is a 24-hour gig that involves keeping tabs on her sketchy sister Norah (Emily Blunt); their well-meaning but befuddled, father Joe (Alan Arkin); and also Rose’s 7-year-old son, Oscar (Jason Spevack), a sweet kid with a knack for landing into trouble.

Among all this, Rose manages to have a love life with a cop named Mac (Steve Zahn), who once was her high school sweetheart but who now is married to another woman pregnant with his umpteenth child.

Back in the day, when Mack and Rose were young and in love, they were the “It” couple on campus. Mac was the quarterback of the football team, Rose was a spirited cheerleader, but now that each are somewhere in their mid-30s, the dreams of their youth have been reduced to lies and deceit, and quick trysts in out-of-town motels.

And yet here’s the thing about Rose. In spite of her moral shortcomings, you like her and pull for her. This is due in large part to how Adams approaches the character, which is with a mix of grace and vulnerability, hurt and pride, all of which shade over her face seemingly at once. Her performance in this movie is measured and flawless, with Adams resonating a groundswell of emotions that feel lived-in and real.

Rose knows she can do better in her life. For her, it’s finding out what and how that’s the problem. When Mac offers a clue — there is a niche market in cleaning up after the dead — Rose pays attention. The lowdown is this: If someone shoots himself, who’s going to clean that up? The situation is, after all, a biohazard. Moreover, if an elderly person dies in his home without anyone knowing for days, weeks or even months, what grieving family member is going to want to tackle that job? And so, along with her sister, Rose starts Sunshine Cleaning, for which there seems to be no shortage of customers.

Subplots abound in this movie, and occasionally they detract. One explores Norah’s odd relationship with another woman, which goes nowhere, and another that deals with how Joe has struggled to raise two daughters and cope in the wake of his wife’s untimely death. The most meaningful subplot involves the potential for Rose to find a much healthier relationship with Winston (Clifton Collins Jr.), a single man of the same age who owns a hardware store and who is physically challenged by having only one arm.

The movie doesn’t make much of his disability, which is nice — it is what it is. But his quiet presence in the film gives it additional weight, particularly since his growing relationship with Rose allows director Jeffs and her screenwriter Megan Holly to keep their focus where it needs to be — on Rose, who, through a lot of introspection, starts to come into focus herself.

Grade: B

On DVD and Blu-ray disc

This week, several movies are new to DVD and Blu-ray disc, the best of which is the Blu-ray version of the BBC miniseries “Cranford.” The film joins together three Elizabeth Gaskell novels — ”Cranford,” “My Lady Ludlow,” “Mr. Harrison’s Confessions” — and it stars two dames: Dame Judi Dench and Dame Eileen Atkins. Given their talent, you can imagine the drama they create onscreen, which is just as substantial as you’d expect.

Less successful on Blu-ray is Frank Miller’s “The Spirit,” whose tagline is the appropriate “My City Screams.” Those who see it might find themselves doing the same, only out of frustration. The film has eye candy to spare in its sets and in its cast (Gabriel Macht, Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes) — but its story is a convoluted mess, its themes and ideas don’t gel and worse, it lacks a character worth giving a damn about.

More Blu-ray mediocrity comes in the release of Adam Sandler’s “Bedtime Stories,” which is so bland and manufactured, you actually forget it while watching it. Ironically, the movie is about the power of stories, and how they literally can come to life when told well. Pity that the film’s director and screenwriters overlooked that fact when they made their movie.

Also on Blu-ray is the health care melodrama “John Q.,” in which Denzel Washington is a hard-luck dad who literally comes out shooting against the system when his son is refused medical care because of his father’s inability to pay. The film raises some important questions about the sorry state of our heath care system, but it undermines its answers with a heavy-handed approach that’s dipped in honey — and vinegar.

Finally, it’s something of a surprise these days when a decent horror movie comes along, but just that happens in the DVD and Blu-ray release of “The Uninvited,” a creepy tale with some nice twists that’s concerned about what really happened when Anna (Emily Browning) lost her mother in a fire. The lot of it is a familiar haze of stolen ideas, but the way it’s assembled is brisk, the film’s haunted-house angle delivers, and Elizabeth Banks and David Strathairn come through with dark performances that linger.

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.


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