This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
"Sunshine Cleaning" is a little too sunny for its material. Its heroine, Rose, is a single mom in desperate need of income, trapped in a one-way affair with her high-school beau, who fathered her son but married someone else. Her son is always in trouble at school. Her sister, Norah, is a hard-living goofball. Then Rose starts a new business cleaning up messy crime scenes.
Does this sound sunny to you? The material might have promise as a black comedy, but its attempt to put on a smiling face is unconvincing. That despite the work by Amy Adams as Rose and Emily Blunt as Norah, two effortless charmers who would be terrific playing these characters in a different movie. And Alan Arkin is back, and engaging, in what is coming dangerously close to "the Alan Arkin role." He's their father, Joe, forever hatching get-poor-quick schemes.
Rose is a good mom. She understands her 7-year-old son, Oscar (Jason Spevack), who is not really troubled but simply high-spirited. I wonder how many little boys are accused of misbehaving simply because they are -- boys. Why does she still sleep with Mac, the faithless high-school quarterback (Steve Zahn) who seduced and abandoned her? She asks herself the same question.
It's Mac who tips her off on a possible business. He's a cop and notices that people get paid well for mopping up after gruesome murders. So is born Rose and Norah's Sunshine Cleaning, which will clean up the rugs and scrape the brains off the wall, etc. This job by its nature allows them to witness the aftermath of lives unexpectedly interrupted; an ID in a dead woman's purse leads them to make an awkward acquaintance.