I was actually looking forward to Sunshine Cleaning for over a year since it debuted at Sundance 2008, chiefly because it has my old Claustrophobia star Mary Lynn Rajskub in a featured role, but also because I thought it had a very intriguing premise: two struggling sisters (Amy Adams and Emily Blunt) decide to go into business cleaning up the gruesome messes left after crime scenes.
I had hoped that such a movie might turn out to be a great dark comedy - cute girls mopping up brain matter! - or perhaps something along the lines of Six Feet Under: a wry look inside the death industry, balancing gallows humor with poignant (and pointed) family drama. However, when the film was finally released, reviews across the board were vaguely unenthusiastic, and so I waited until Sunshine Cleaning hit the cheap theater before I saw it.
I now understand the lack of enthusiasm, but I will put it into more specific terms: the film is nowhere near as fun as it should be.
With a cast like this (including Alan Arkin as the sisters' father, the eternally underrated Clifton Collins Jr., and Steve Zahn in a curiously underwritten role as Adams's married boyfriend) and a premise that somehow manages to work in sex, suicide, lesbians, amputees, gore, and children with licking fetishes, how could it not be interesting? Yet somehow, director Jeffs and especially screenwriter Megan Holley have managed to make it all dreadfully dull.
Holley infuses her script with the hoary old Sundance cliche of the Dead Relative, in this case the sisters' mother, whose death some twenty years earlier they are still coming to terms with, and it really drags the movie down. Whatever humor exists is strained; the grim cleanup scenes (just a bit of blood, really) are presented without shock; there isn't really even much of a story. It's mostly just a bunch of unhappy characters feeling sorry for themselves.
The cast is fine, the dialogue is believable, and although Jeffs doesn't seem to be doing much directing, she appears competent. This isn't a terrible film. (The worst thing about it is Michael Penn's lazy, countrified guitar score.) But in a way, I'm angrier about Sunshine Cleaning than I am about so many more obviously idiotic movies. Why? Because of the wasted potential. You could see how easy it would have been to have made a great film with such a wonderful cast and a concept rich with possibilities. That the results are so inoffensive, whiny, and bland is a crime.