Monday, July 13, 2009

SUNSHINE CLEANING: MOVIE REVIEW


Cast: Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Clifton Collins Jr., Steve Zahn, Jason Spevack
Director: Christine Jeffs
Runtime: 91 min.
Rating: ****
Genre: Comedy, Drama

        Ms. Adams plays Rose Lorkowski, a single-mom and a housecleaner trying to make ends meet. Rose seems to be in her late twenties, and life has been nothing like she had hoped to be when she was the head cheerleader of her high school and the girl every boy wanted to have for himself. A lot of actresses could’ve played such a character, I believe, but not Rose, not in this film, and certainly not with this script. Not everyone could’ve played her, and as I try to list down names in my mind, I can barely seem to be convinced by anybody. The very foundation of the script’s believability rests upon the innate goodness that seems to come so naturally and truthfully to Ms. Adams’ characters. There seems to be no fa├žade to them. They’re for plainview.
        Consider Rose, whose financial and personal desperation makes her latch onto a job that involves cleaning the aftermath of a homicide. Like a murder. Or a suicide. The technical term for the job is De-comp. She considers it gross. Yet it is lucrative. She starts making some money. Every phone ring accompanies with it the anticipation of a death, somewhere, to somebody, and business. She picks up the call with a smile, a genuine smile. She’s happy; she’s got to clear the mortgage on the house. Her personal life sucks. Her high school boyfriend is married over to somebody, but still enjoys her company in the bed. Of motels. He is the father of one, and his wife is expecting a second. She hopes he’ll leave her one day. Her only son is a bastard. Yet she is hopeful. Her beautiful eyes still haven’t banished those teenage dreams. A person like her, who still hasn’t let go of her pink-colored glasses, and the hope that life shall somehow work-out , shouldn’t spend time reflecting upon. It might make her weak, it might make her acknowledge the truth of her predicament. Sometimes, the answer is blowing with it. While she’s driving her van she gets a call from an old woman whose husband has just shot himself. When her partner and her younger sister, Norah (Ms. Blunt) asks her who it was, she replies with an innocent and happy smile – Suicide. She’s a good person. The money-wheel is spinning. Any death is good. She goes over, and she meets a woman who’s shocked. The very sight breaks Rose’s heart. She asks the widow – Mrs. Davis, do you want me to sit with you for a while? You should feel the acting here, and the gentle and true nature of Ms. Adams’ voice. There can be only a handful of actors who can make it seem more sincere. But with Ms. Adams it isn’t about seeming. It is about being. She sits with the old woman, providing her company till her son comes over. And she struggles with her own tears. It is a quiet moment of reflection of her own pitiable state of affairs. It is a remarkable moment, and rarely do we come across such purity of emotions at the movies.
        The more I see of Ms. Adams, and the more I believe that we might have finally gotten ourselves the most natural talent since Tom Hanks burst onto the scene in the early nineties. In a role that requires a remarkable range of emotions, not a single moment finds Ms. Adams acting, or performing, or striving to find a note. I wonder if Rose was written with her in mind. It is a touching performance. Ms. Adams is Rose, as much as Rose is Ms. Adams, and it feels acting no more. It is heartfelt. Each expression, be it of humiliation, of fear, of joy, or of grit, is nuanced. I suspect Ms. Adams can never be caught phoning it in. I wait for the day she plays a cynical character, like the one Ms. Blunt plays here, and I wonder how she would turn out. I don’t think she shall be all that successful for cynicism on her face might seem like a paradox. There’s something about her face, maybe those expressive eyes that seem so pure and vulnerable, that instantly make it all believable. She seems like a little girl caught in the muddle of adulthood. Mr. Hanks, much like the great James Stewart, was the everyman of the movies. Ms. Adams, in a role that asks of her to represent the working class in the present times, might very well be the everywoman of the movies.
        Sunshine Cleaning is a charming film. That is because of the superior acting within it, not just from Ms. Adams about whom I seemed to have spent a considerable length of my review, but Ms. Blunt too. She is Rose’s younger sister, Norah, an edgy girl still living with her dad (Mr. Arkin), who has no real job and spends most of her time partying. Ms. Blunt plays the part with gay abandon, and it is an ideal foil to the relatively more gravitating Rose. The interplay between the sisters is one of the film’s great joys. And there’s Mr. Arkin, who basically gives a re-hash of his performance in that other film set in Albuquerque, Little Miss Sunshine, for which he won the Academy Award. If you happen to find similarities between the films, I’m not sure that is supposed to be a coincidence, for the producers happen to be the same.
        But it is also because of the compassionate way in which Ms. Jeffs handles the subject. These are tough times, and I’m reminded of two other films from last year capturing the tough lives of two women, or rather three – Frozen River and Wendy and Lucy – both directed by two women. This is a third, with characters just as complex and just as desperate. A single working mother is a substantial demographic in that part of the world. Yet the nature of the compassion differs. Those two films from last year were somber reflective dramas. This one’s one too, yet it is hopeful in its ways. Some critics are complaining that the tone of the film might not be appropriate. That it might be a little bit too sunny for its material. I say this is a smart film, and a kind film, and not a forced-feed like that Best Picture Oscar Winner from last year. It gives its characters reasons to be happy in their lives. Little moments, profound moments. Norah attempts a little bit of tressling, climbing up to the underside of a railroad bridge, positioning herself on the girder, waiting for the train to come. She says it feels like an angry God screaming at you. The train comes, thunders past her, and sparks fly all about her. She revels in them. She screams back. It is a beautiful sight. She lets go of some tears, remembering her past. I was moved. It is that kind of a little moment during which you find that truest version of yourself, whom you want to let all out. You want to shout, for no particular reason. Life isn’t all that sunny, but that is no reason the film shouldn’t be either to these wonderful folks.
        It doesn’t give us closure through the standard norm, but does hint that life isn’t all that bad. Yes, Ms. Holley, the scriptwriter here, and Ms. Jeffs do try and bring in that Indie-quirkiness that seems a little out of place, when looked at in hindsight. There’re several threads running in the sidelines, like of the former high-school buddies, of Mac, which start with quite a degree of freshness but end up quite derivative. But in there with the superior acting it is all pretty trivial. Great actors can do that to a film. The point again, is not the events that happen to these people, but how they react to them. The events may seem perfunctory, the reactions not. I believe that is where the smartness and the depth of the film lay. There’re great many tones to the film, and let us just say most of them stick. And some of them feel beautiful. Like an opening shot where a slow-mo shot of the devil-may-care Norah barging out of one of her waitress jobs is spectacularly juxtaposed with the dutiful and somber Rose carrying her cleaning stuff out of her van. It is a wonderful shot because it comes at the right time, and is preceded by scenes and acting that instantly convey the deal.
        There’s a final scene that features a remarkable bit of writing, again not because what is in it, but because it builds upon the events that precede it. Rose walks upto Winston (Mr. Clifton Collins Jr., Capote), who has been some kind of a breath of warmth and kindness into her life. Some kind of a hope. She probably realizes it. Her career as a De-comp seems to be all over because of a silly turn of events, which I shall leave you to discover. She walks upto his store to pick up her kid. She is shattered. And she confesses – “There's not a lot that I am good at. But I'm good at getting guys to want me. Not date me, or marry me, but want me. And cheering. I have always been good at cheering.” It is a uniquely romantic moment, something which could easily have been laughable, but coming through Ms. Adams is elevated to one that is capable of being one of the great dialogs. You cannot help but be moved beyond words. This lady, Ms. Adams, I tell you is one hell of a talent, the kind we don’t come across that often. A beautiful throwback to the charm of the black-and-white era. She is something straight out of a Chaplin film. God I feel lucky.

1 comment:

Shantanu Dhankar said...

I also realised one thing about the story which one rarely sees,often the storywriter is forced to reach a conclusion but in this case one is left wondering of what exactly the character of Nora(h) stood for,It is a character searching for something in the film and when she finds it, she sets off on a journey, I like the bit that it is unexplained and left for readers to guess.