Tuesday, March 17, 2009

sunshine in unexpected places

I'm not sure whether, when you take a week off for surgery, you're allowed to go see a movie if you feel pretty good on the sixth day and think that it might be useful to ease back into the world gradually rather than jumping in the deep end on Thursday.

So, if you are my boss, let's just say that I got an illegal screener of Sunshine Cleaning and watched it on DVD from my sickbed. And if you're a member of the MPAA, or whoever polices such things, let's say it wasn't illegal and I'm in fact a member of the Academy.

But whomever you are, you should see this movie (unless you're the dad of the girl who was in front of me coming out of the movie theater, who told her in a semi-baffled tone, "I think I liked it...except it was kind of boring"). As I explained to AK, I love movies about people trying to figure out their lives: in this case, Amy Adams is Rose, a former high school cheerleader and present-day single mom trying to turn her housecleaning gigs into a dignified adult life. I can see how other people might find a movie dull for the exact same reason.

But Rose's career path is as refreshing as it is realistic--refreshing because it's realistic. In movies, when people "find themselves," it usually involves turning a hobby into a career or going after a dream that they were just too scared (as opposed to marginally talented) to pursue, and often a boutique is opened or an album is recorded.

In real life, people stumble into a field, maybe two or three, and then find a niche there. They discover, as in the case of Rose and her sister Norah's crime scene cleanup biz, that there's inherent joy in filling a need and doing it well. It's not that (most) people dream of cleaning up messes for a living--but it's not that doing so means you're barred from job satisfaction either, as less imaginative screenwriters (who, when their screenplays aren't selling, tell themselves, At least I'm not cleaning houses) imagine.

Sunshine Cleaning has a standout cast (Alan Arkin, Emily Blunt, and I hope I'll see more of Clifton Collins Jr., who plays the one-armed janitorial supply guy in a way that makes you think a one-armed janitorial supply guy could be quite a catch), and they flesh out the tough family relationships in the film as expertly as Rachel Getting Married. It adds up to a rags-to-whatever's-a-step-above-rags story that, in my mind, offers a lot more hope than the Slumdog Millionaires of the world.


Don Cummings said...

I'm going to see it.
What I love about stories that have just an incremental change is that they are truer to life. (Clumsy sentence, I know)... And in the small, more truthful transition, we actually believe that such a transition is taking place. Small stuff really registering.

Cheryl said...

Yeah, and that kind of stuff is that much harder to write, when you don't have the shorthand of death and explosions as a crutch.