Little Miss Sunshine Cleaning Company

We have a lot of slacker comedies these days, but they’re not usually centered around women. This may be because slacker women aren’t funny. For instance, in the new dramedy (can I still use that word?) from the makers of Little Miss Sunshine, Sunshine Cleaning we have slacker sisters Rose and Norah, working as cleaner and waitress respectively, our girls aren’t really slackers because they just never grew up (as is the usual case with boys), but because of a tragedy in their early lives.

This swaps out some comedic potential for drama, which is ookkaaaay, I guess, but maybe a little, I dunno, cheap? (Drama is way easier to pull off than comedy, especially when you’ve got Amy Adams and Emily Blunt in a tragic situation.)

Anyway, in this case, we have the lovely and versatile Amy Adams in the title role, playing a normal person (as opposed to a nun, a wild ‘30s actress or a fairy princess) and there’s just no doubt that this girl can act. She’s a single mom having an affair with a married man (instead of getting her real estate license) and hard up for money because her son, Oscar, decided to lick things at school, and they don’t want him there any more unless they can drug him. (I didn’t know that the state could force you to “medicate” your child but, hey, way to go Big Pharm, if that’s the case. Nothing like hooking ’em young. I guess the tobacco guys knew what they were doing, eh?)

Her cop boyfriend hooks her up with a crime scene cleanup job, not entirely on the up-and-up, and Rose takes to it, dragging her recently fired sister along with her. The money is good and they begin to feel good about it, making some investments and getting the necessary training and certification.

There are about half-a-dozen subplots: Grampa (Alan Arkin) car-schools Oscar while buying things off the back of a truck and trying to sell them for profit; a romantic thread with the one-armed proprietor of the store (acting chameleon Clifton Collins, Jr.) where they buy their supplies; the affair with the cop; Rose’s high school quasi-reunion; Norah’s pursuit of a person connected to one of their cases; I think that’s all of them.

This keeps things moving, and everything builds nicely to a second act catastrophe. In a traditional three-act screen play, the second act ends with a disaster–the big disaster that knocks the hero down and gives him something to overcome in the climax in act three.

And that’s where this movie kind of peters out: The second act catastrophe is awesome. Just when it looks like Rose has finally got her act act together, Norah ruins everything. You just can’t see a good way out of this mess.

And then there’s some resolving of personal conflicts and–I won’t call it a deus ex machina, because it’s not, exactly, but for a movie that doesn’t bother to tie up half its loose ends (which is fine, things can be too neat), this main one is not tied up way too neatly and unconvincingly. (I can’t go into it without spoiling things.)

Overall, it’s an entertaining movie with good acting (including the aforementioned Emily Blunt of Charlie Wilson’s War, Steve Zahn as the cop boyfriend and Jason Spevak as Oscar) a few laughs from a broad spectrum of humor (that is some standard comedy fare, some darker), and quite a bit of drama.

We actually felt it could’ve been a little bit longer. It runs only 90 minutes, with about ten minutes cut from the European release. (That might’ve been another subplot, who knows?)

This movie isn’t all that much, in nature, like the contrived, sit-com-y Little Miss Sunshine, either. (I liked Little Miss Sunshine but it was terribly clich├ęd.) It shares a couple of producers with this movie, and you can feel their influence–like I suspect the filming location is part of that–and Alan Arkin is in both movies, but the earlier movie is a lot shallower and, yes, funnier.

And it was almost like the director and writer wanted to avoid the tidy wrapping up of loose ends enjoyed by the LMS crew and so left us with a lot more questions, and a little unsatisfied.

See, I’m having trouble ending this. The short form is: We liked it but wouldn’t recommend it unreservedly.

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