Director Christine Jeffs begins her latest film as she ended her last: with a suicide. Yet while the conclusion of Sylvia was hardly a surprise – it being the biopic of laugh-a-decade poet Sylvia Plath – having a guy spray his own brains around a gun shop is an unusual way to start a comedy.
But as Sunshine Cleaning unfolds with its kooky premise, dark humour, issues of life, death and parenthood, big vans, odd kids and Alan Arkin, it doesn’t take long to realise that the people behind Little Miss Sunshine are playing I-Spy on Indie Street again. Worry not, it's no bad thing.
Following her Oscar-nominated role as an expectant mother in the similarly offbeat Junebug, Amy Adams plays single mum Rose, once the cheerleading girlfriend of the school quarterback, now reduced to working as a lowly rent-a-maid.
Oh, she still dates Mac the quarterback (Steve Zahn). It’s just that he’s married to someone else. But as the detective looking into the aforementioned shooting, he also suggests that Rose could make good money by cleaning up crime scenes.
Needing to put her young son Oscar (Jason Spevack) into private school following a licking incident at his old one, Rose could certainly do with the cash.
So could her unemployable sister Norah (Blunt) who still lives at home with their widower, fly-by-night dad Joe (Arkin, terrific as per).
With a little help from Winston (Clifton Collins Jr, Capote), the one-armed model-maker who works down the cleaning supply store, the girls are soon up to their deeply offended noses in human decay.
But as Rose regains her sense of worth, Norah is beset by memories of their own mother’s death after striking up a relationship with the unsuspecting daughter (played by Mary Lynn ‘Chloe from 24’ Rajskub) of one of their deceased ‘clients’.
The icky premise is, of course, one big metaphor about cleaning up your act and getting your personal life in order before it’s too late. But it also provides the film with an amusing hook on which to hang its many quirks.
Comedically and dramatically, Jeffs and writer Megan Holley cover a lot of ground in a relatively short time. Inevitably, and perhaps deliberately, many questions go unanswered.
Is Mac Oscar’s father? Why did Joe’s wife kill herself? What happened to Winston’s arm? Come to it, what happens to Winston?
It’s untidy, then, but in an oddly satisfying way.
And while their characters are a tad familiar, the eminently watchable little misses Adams and Blunt put the sunshine into this family affair.
Roll your sleeves up and get stuck in.