Changing attitudes dominate Sunshine Cleaning. It happens on a business level, where siblings Rose (Amy Adams) and Norah (Emily Blunt) become used to cleaning up after dead people. After being completely disgusted at the sight of maggots, they receive a call. Rose states, “It’s a suicide.” Her sister replies with, “That’s a good thing.” They have come to enjoy their job (or maybe just the checks), despite the rather grisly nature.
That’s another change. Whereas Norah jumped from job to job, working with her sister at the upstart Sunshine Cleaning brings them together. Instead of arguing, they find a means to connect and grow closer. The same goes for their relationship with their father Joe (Alan Arkin), who shows support and pushes them to succeed.
Underneath it all lies a number of story mechanics, Rose having an affair, Norah trying to reach a dead woman’s daughter, and Joe struggling to make his grandson happy. Every one has a purpose and a clearly defined goal in this story, something to push them forward. They are easy going, and easy to relate to.
Despite the subject matter, Sunshine Cleaning is surprisingly upbeat. The grisly nature of the deaths, from a suicide inside a gun store to a crash through a store window, are dealt with humor, not sorrow. It’s not just how people cope, but to keep the tone in the proper light to ensure the drama sticks to the personal problems.
Sunshine Cleaning doesn’t really close. The ending leaves a number of strings open, the audience well aware of what can still go wrong, yet everyone remains chipper and perky. Norah and Sarah come to terms with their childhood, grow up, and become at least a partial family, not just a shell. It’s what the story focused on, and what it closes on, leaving those threads open a refreshing change of pace.
Anchor Bay delivers a fantastic AVC encode for Sunshine Cleaning. The key here is dimensionality, the rich black levels, bright contrast, and refined texture combining to create a wonderfully deep image. This is not always consistent, but the general trend that carries this transfer.
Grain is wonderfully resolved and clean, never an issue in terms of artifacting or noise. The first shot of the film, inside a car where a man frantically searches for bullets, is outstanding despite the limited light. Even later, the dimmer lighting by intent hardly creates an issue, such as 6:12, where detail is fully resolved and maintained. Near the end of the film as Adams sits in the van talking on the radio (1:23:32), the barely visible street lighting has no ill-effect on the facial texture. Mid-range detail is maintained too, Adams sitting outside with a grieving widow at 50:47 a perfect example.
Environments benefit greatly as well because of the sharpness, a shot of a house at 9:27 (complete with a mountain backdrop) is jaw-droppingly rendered. For better or worse, the crime scenes are intricately detailed, the first one taking place inside a bathroom with a wall covered in blood, the splatter disgustingly vivid and rich. Outstanding color is another hallmark here, the inside of a candy store at 19:09 spectacular.
Sunshine’s faults come with some inconsistency. Black levels are not always as deep and rich as they could be, the inside of an elevator at 33:16 one spot where they fail to deliver the goods. Facial detail does fluctuate wildly too, sometimes within the same scene. Inside the diner at 1:14:30, as Emily Blunt chats with Mary Lynn Rajskub, the various close-ups fluctuate between vivid texture and softness.
Not much happens sonically in Sunshine, not much of a surprise for a family-driven drama, but even when it has the chance it never really sparks the best out of this TrueHD mix. A party 45-minutes in lacks ambiance, the party guests random chatter stuck in the stereo channels, and the light music barely bleeding into the surrounds.
A house fire late into the film doesn’t do much either, the roaring flames barely connecting on the low-end, and again sticking to the fronts. The best ambiance comes in about 54-minutes, where owls and crickets make their presence known. Blunt then climbs up underneath some tracks, and the train passes overhead with a little presence, if again a lackadaisical low-end.
There is little to the score until the end credits, where the added fidelity is appreciated. Dialogue remains firmly placed in the center channel; directionality is not something that is handled well here.
A fun and interesting featurette A Fresh Look at a Dirty Business runs 11:17, looking at a real life pair of clean-up artists if you will. A commentary is also included from writer Megan Holly and Producer Glenn Williamson. Trailers and BD-Live access remain.