Though not as amazing as Little Miss Sunshine, this film from the same producers features similar themes as well as results. Family problems and harrowing drama like suicide and death coupled with plenty of dark humor yield a winning film about making the world—and yourself—just a little bit better than it was before. (Spoilers ahead.)
Amy Adams plays Rose Lorkowski, a single mom in her thirties taking care of a troubled but bright child. Rose, a former high school cheerleading squad captain, is having an affair with a married man (Zahn) and cleaning houses to support herself and her son. When Oscar, her son, is singled out to be placed in a special education classroom, Rose decides that she needs to make more money in order to put him in a private school, telling him that they’ll never come back to that school again.
In order to do this, she takes the advice of her boyfriend and starts a crime scene cleanup business, “Sunshine Cleaning,” with her lackadaisical sister, Norah. The scenes are gruesome and smelly, but by offering a cheaper price than the local crime scene cleanup company, the girls garner a lot of business. Their work ethics aren’t completely up to par, however, and between taking haphazard courses, Rose is devastated when Norah accidentally sets a crime scene on fire, burning a house completely to the ground—before she has purchased insurance for their company.
In between the dark comedy of the crime cleanup scenes and the poignant back story featuring the girls’ mother, who committed suicide, they discover that their job differs from the traditional housecleaning job in that they feel like they’ve been able to help people a little after a death. At the end of the movie, their father (Arkin) sells his home to start a new company up, thereby allowing Rose to continue her newfound dream—and Norah a chance to hit the road and pursue whatever hers may be.
The makers of the movie say that it’s about a story they heard on NPR’s All Things Considered report in 2001. Two women in Seattle were running a biohazard cleaning service, which spawned this idea. It’s a very surprisingly heartwarming story, given the subject material, and focuses on two women who seem to have lost themselves following their mother’s early death—and find their way back again through this highly unusual way.