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Sunday, February 02, 2020

Sunshine Cleaning (2008): Sisters and Entrepreneurship

The independent, low-budget film, Sunshine Cleaning, (Dir. Christine Jeffs, 2008), was well received at film festivals and by critics. It received six non-winning nominations and two winning nominations for film awards. The film won “Outstanding Achievement in Casting – Low Budget Feature – Drama/Comedy) and also Women Film Critics Circle Awards “Best Woman Storyteller.”  The film’s budget was capped at $5 million. The box office proceeds came in at $17.3 million, which does not include Internet / app distribution.

Megan Holley

Cast (partial listing):

Rose (Amy Adams)
Norah (Emily Blunt)
Joe (Alan Arkin)
Oscar (Jason Spevack)
Mac (Steve Zahn)


After deciding her gifted by quirky young son should attend private school rather than continue to be bullied, Rose Lorkowski, a mom who has been employed with a maid service provider, discovers that crime scene and biohazard cleanup pays many times more than her current job. So, with the help of her free-spirited but unreliable younger sister and baby-sitting support from her hapless entrepreneur father, she launches Sunshine Cleaning. The first few jobs are a bit overwhelming, especially since the two sisters know absolutely nothing about hazardous materials, bloodborne pathogens, or personal protective equipment. They persevere, however, and start to build the business.  As they clean up the aftermath of accidental deaths, accidents, criminal acts, and suicides, the sisters start to confront some of the darker issues of their own lives, including the suicide of their own mother, the erratic parenting of their father, and the tendency to become involved in relationships that have no hope of a positive outcome.

Set in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the light has that clear, yellow-gold clarity of northern New Mexico mountains, that contrasts with a clear blue sky and a chaparral / desert pavement ground. It’s earthy and realistic, lending the film a sense of authenticity.

What I like about the movie is the entrepreneurial spirit in a time of desperate challenges; the financial collapse of 2008 is not explicitly mentioned, but its presence is palpable. The uneasy relationship between two sisters and their well-intentioned but hapless father is also very touching. The sisters, through sheer force of will (and love for family), overcome the sickening nature of the crime scenes and bio-hazard zones.

In doing so, they are able to see the murky shapes in the recesses of their conscious minds, and to let the undifferentiated masses of emotions long suppressed come to the surface and untangle themselves.

Through the contact with death, many times due to the suicide of someone, the suicide of their mother emerges.  They come to realize that many of the patterns and behaviors they’ve had over the years have been in response to that traumatic loss.

And, as time goes on, they courageously face the memories and the feelings, they start on the tough work of cleaning up the ultimate bio-hazard zone, grief and loss.

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