Rose (Amy Adams) is a former highschool head cheerleader whose life has gone downhill from those apparently dizzy heights. Now a thirty-something “failure” with silly ‘positive thinking’ post-it notes on her mirror, she moves from McJob to McJob, not really fitting in anywhere, and has an affair with a cop (Steve Zahn) who doesn’t want to leave his wife. Younger sister Norah (Emily Blunt) quirkily drifts through her existence, finding nothing much to interest her for very long. Together they decide to start a business cleaning crime scenes (“a real growth industry”) to make some money and put Rose’s bright young son (Jason Spevack) into a private school.
Many potentially interesting ideas – upon which entire films could easily be based – are floated in one scene, or one line even, before being unceremoniously dropped. For instance, if cleaning crime scenes really is a growth industry, why could that be? Similarly, why is it that Rose suffers from such a lack of self-esteem? Why is she a bit ashamed to tell her old school friend she is a cleaner? After all, where would the world be without cleaning? And why does that guy only have one arm?
It can be difficult for artists to deal with matters of great social significance, and various processes have made it even harder over the past few decades, particularly for film-makers. But tensions that were bubbling under when Sunshine Cleaning was first conceived are now erupting on the surface. Jeffs tries here, but a total re-ordering of art is required, and this kind of coy flirtation with saying something is not sufficient.