Suicide may be painless, but in the world of black comedies, it’s the cleaning up afterwards that really hurts. After her hesitant Sylvia Plath biopic, director Christine Jeffs has latched on to a solid if unexceptional script by first-time writer Megan Holley, focusing on two sisters who set up a business to disinfect crime scenes in a New Mexico backwater.
Played by Enchanted’s Amy Adams, Rose Lorkowski is an ex-cheerleader and now single mother whose dismal domestic situation is not helped by looking out for her feckless sister Norah (Young Victoria’s Emily Blunt). Throw in Steve Zahn as Rose’s married lover Mac, and Alan Arkin playing the same kind of grouchy grandpa as in Little Miss Sunshine, and Sunshine Cleaning has performers perfectly qualified for a misfit comedy.
Where Jeffs and Holley mess up, however, is in the details; the bile and blood-soaked aftermath the sisters frequently have to clean up is simply too icky to generate laughs, while a subplot involving Norah’s lesbian attraction to the daughter of a suicide victim is poorly developed. Admirers of SherryBaby, Waitress and other small-town tragicomedies will want to take the time to salvage some well-tuned performances here; Adams shines in a blue-collar setting, playing off Blunt’s amusingly sullen posturing, and Arkin is reliable as ever.
(15) 91min. General release from Fri 26 Jun.