Picks and Pans Review: Sunshine Cleaning

updated 03/23/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 03/23/2009 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin | R |

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There are some stains scrubbing can't remove. For Rose Lorkowski (Adams) and her younger sister Norah (Blunt), the permanent blot haunting their lives is the death of their mother when they were small. Two decades later Rose is a single mom stuck in a dead-end affair with her now-married high school beau (Steve Zahn) and Norah is a goth slacker who makes a practice of not caring too much about anything. But when the siblings start a cleaning service devoted to sanitizing gory crime scenes in Albuquerque, they haltingly begin to make progress at cleaning up their own messy emotional pasts and moving on with their lives.

Amid the dumb comedies and shoot-'em-ups blanketing multiplexes this winter, the fragile Sunshine Cleaning pokes through with the optimistic determination of a crocus. This refreshingly quirky comic drama is colorful yet slight, concerned with regular folks just trying to get by. Giving Sunshine much of its appeal are the terrific performances. Adams deftly turns Rose's perkiness inside out to show her vulnerable underside, while Blunt imbues Norah with the coiled tension of a garden hose right after the water has been turned on. Arkin, playing a minimally kinder, gentler version of his Little Miss Sunshine grandpa, is a gruff joy.

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