Set in a sleepy American Southwest, Alan Arkin plays the patriarch of a quirky family that decides to take action in order to change the stale inevitability of their dead-end lives. If you guessed this to be the plot synopsis of that Sunshine movie -- congratulations, you're going to Disney World! Probably in a Volkswagen van, where wacky episodes filled with bittersweet humor and a twee indie pop soundtrack will make the journey more significant than the destination itself, but hey, that's life -- oh btw FOLLOW YR DREAMZ!!
A fair number of recent films have attempted to mimic the runaway success of Sundance hit Little Miss Sunshine, but none have done it as blatantly as Sunshine Cleaning--which was actually produced by the people who brought us Little Miss Sunshine! The film not only goes so far as to rip off the original's title, but also invites Alan Arkin to reprise his Oscar-winning role. This is another heavy-handed slog through generic Indieville, and it's disingenuous, to boot. Sunshine Cleaning is perfectly representative of the way in which a certain swath of American indies have become as glossy and formulaic as the Hollywood machine they used to so carefully avoid. Maybe it's just me, but doesn't the independent message supposedly promoted by the Sundance Film Festival sort of lose its cache when each picture that comes out of it is less distinguishable from the next?
In this most recent episode of Sundance, Amy Adams and Emily Blunt play sisters who haven't yet recovered from their adolescent roles as high school cheerleader and rebellious troublemaker, respectively. With seemingly few options left, they team up and form a business cleaning up crime scenes, in spite of the putrid nature of their personal lives. There's potential for off-kilter humor or morbid drama ingrained into the premise, but it's clear from the first crime scene that director Christine Jeffs has little interest in either, playing it for a simple vomit gag. Gag!
Thankfully, Sunshine Cleaning is well-cast, lending it a bit more credibility than it probably deserves. Adams can carry a movie, and she does an admirable job here; although her performance doesn't necessarily salvage the film altogether, she gives a potential train wreck an adequate level of watchability. Yet as much as I usually love films embracing this style of atmosphere and pace, the only feeling we walk away with is that of a general sense of déjÃ vu. With edgy, groundbreaking studio movies like The Dark Knight, Wall-E, and Coraline appearing in multiplexes fairly regularly, you almost begin to wonder whether the extra 20 minutes it takes to drive to the arthouse theater is worth it anymore.