Sunshine Cleaning's ads trumpet that it's "from the producers of Little Miss Sunshine," and like that Oscar-winning hit, it often belies its cheery title by exploring the darkness that descends on the lives of decent, ordinary people just trying to get ahead. Yet while it may not be as sharply written as its predecessor, it contains enough fine moments -- to say nothing of a strong central performance by Amy Adams -- to make it a worthwhile endeavor.
Adams stars as Rose Lorkowski, once a popular high school cheerleader with a quarterback boyfriend, now a struggling maid-for-hire with a troublesome son (Jason Spevack). When her married lover Mac (Steve Zahn), the former QB who's now a police detective, suggests that more money can be made by providing cleanup services at crime scenes, she jumps at the suggestion, convincing her reluctant sister Norah (Emily Blunt) to join her in this new endeavor. Obtaining the proper license proves to be almost as challenging as the actual cleanup duties (which often include removing body parts and swarming insects and always include mopping up copious amounts of blood), but Rose is determined to carve out a better existence for herself and her family.
First-time scripter Megan Holley relies on too many familiar conventions and character types to flesh out her story: Here's yet one more indie effort in which Mom is involved with a married man, Junior is a social outcast, and Grandpa is crusty yet kind (Alan Arkin virtually reprises his Little Miss Sunshine role). Yet other aspects of her screenplay are refreshing: The relationship between the sisters feels natural, the cleanup service angle is inspired (more scenes of them on the job would have been appreciated), and the character of a one-armed janitorial store proprietor (nicely played by Clifton Collins Jr.) emerges as a complete original. Sunshine Cleaning's positives don't completely eclipse the tired material, but they do suggest that Holley might have a bright future ahead of her.