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Film / Sunshine Cleaning

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"We come into people's lives when they've experienced something profound and sad...and we help. In our own, small way, we help."
Rose Lorkowsi

Sunshine Cleaning is a 2008 Dramedy starring Amy Adams, Emily Blunt and Alan Arkin.

They play sisters Rose (Adams) and Norah (Blunt), both struggling for identity in a small town in New Mexico. Hoping to improve her finances - and get her sister working - Rose decides to start up a business where they clean up crime scenes after homicides. Hilarity Ensues, but so does a lot of drama.


  • Adorably Precocious Child: Oscar, Rose's son, is great at math and stuns his mother by adding up her finances. He also helps his grandfather out with sneaky business deals.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Norah and her friendship with Lynn. It's implied that Lynn is gay and interested in Norah, but Norah is the one who invites her out to do things. She's seen having sex with a random guy after Lynn makes something resembling a pass at her, so she clearly has some attraction to men.note 
  • Ambulance Chaser: A variation. Norah is seen finding one job by seeing a report about an accident on the news.
  • And Starring: Alan Arkin gets the citation.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Rose views Norah as this due to their Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling dynamic.
  • Baby Trap: Implied that this was the case with Mac and his wife Heather. Rose at one point asks "why did you pick Heather?" to which he responds "you know it wasn't like that" - suggesting Heather got pregnant and he married her for this reason.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Implied that Rose had this for Norah growing up. Subverted towards the end of the film when Norah says she doesn't need Rose to take care of her.
  • Blatant Lies: Rose and Norah's father puts on a banner "since 1963"...for a business that's only just been started up. He tries to justify it as "a business lie".
  • Brick Joke: Oscar is given a rub-on tattoo by Norah for his birthday that reads 'Lil Bastard'. When he's in the school yard at the end he has the tattoo on his arm.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': The one time Rose blows off a job to go to a baby shower Norah accidentally burns the house down and ruins the business chances. To boot, Rose had been holding out on getting insurance until she was certified.
  • Cerebus Retcon: It's a joke that the radio transmitter in the van can be used to talk "to the heavens", and Oscar frequently jokes about sending messages up there. In one sad scene towards the end, Rose talks on the radio to her dead mother.
  • Chekhov's Gag: Norah lights a candle to take away the smell from one scene. She forgets to put it out and ends up burning the house down.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Rose and Norah talk about a scene in a Made-for-TV Movie their mother was a featured extra in that they never got the chance to see. They finally see it towards the end.
  • Chekhov's Hobby: Rose being a trained cleaning lady at the beginning makes her a good fit for Sunshine Cleaning.
  • Cool Aunt: Despite her flaws, Norah cares for Oscar greatly.
  • Cop Boyfriend: Mac to Rose.
  • Cute Kitten: One that Norah finds at a crime scene proves to be an Unwitting Instigator of Doom.
  • Dead Person Conversation: As noted above, Rose stages one with her mother in the van near the end.
  • Disappeared Dad: Mac is Oscar's father, though they don't appear to have any relationship, since he keeps his connection to Oscar's mother Rose a secret as he's married to another woman.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Early on, a man goes into a gun store and acts like he's going to buy a shotgun. After they get one out, the guy surreptitiously puts a shell in he brought, then kills himself with it.
    • When cleaning up after an elderly man's suicide, Rose and Norah are troubled by memories of their own mother's suicide.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Norah's first scenes feature the following - a) she sleeps in and has to be woken by her father, b) she causes an accident at work, and c) she walks out after a fight with her boss.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Deconstructed. The business starts out like this because Rose needs to make some fast money. Although disgusted by the work at first, Rose quickly comes to love it and realises it's her calling.
  • Fallen Princess: Rose is a former head cheerleader and prom queen from high school who is now a cleaning lady and single mother - reduced to having an affair with her married high school boyfriend.
  • First Law of Tragicomedies: While the film is a more light-hearted drama than comedy, any of the comedic parts vanish in the third act where Rose calls off her affair with Mac, Norah and Lynn's budding relationship implodes and Sunshine Cleaning goes under.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Norah is the foolish, unreliable younger sister. Rose is the responsible, reliable older sister.
  • Foreshadowing: Norah and Rose are shown getting excited whenever a diner scene is shown on the TV. It's revealed that their mother got to be a featured extra in a TV movie and they never got to see her scene. They finally see it towards the end.
  • Girlish Pigtails: Norah is often seen with her hair in pigtails, presumably to show her immaturity.
  • Good Bad Girl: Norah is definitely this, as her 'badness' amounts to laziness and some drinking. She's a good-hearted girl underneath it all.
  • Good-Looking Privates: Rose is having an affair with a cop. He frequently shows up at their motel room in uniform.
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Norah is usually seen smoking or drinking, and takes Lynn to a seedy looking party.
  • Harmful to Minors: Rose and Norah saw their mother's corpse after she committed suicide when they were children.
  • Heroic Bastard: Oscar is Rose's child with Mac, while the latter is married to someone else. At one point he asks Norah what a bastard is, having been called this by a classmate. She reassures him it's nothing which he should feel ashamed about. Oscar's a bit mischievous, but still a good kid.
  • Hide Your Lesbians: Norah and Lynn's story was very obviously romantic in the original script - with a kiss filmed and a scene where Norah begs Lynn to take her back. In the finished film it's left ambiguous as to whether Norah is interested in Lynn romantically or wanted a friend instead.
  • Implied Love Interest: There's definitely something between Rose and Winston, which Norah teases her about.
  • Job Title: 'Sunshine Cleaning' is a cleaning business.
  • Kind Hearted Cat Lover: Norah appears to be this, since she devotes special time to trying to catch a stray cat at one job. She's shown to have the same cat with her as she leaves town at the end.
  • Letting Her Hair Down:
    • Rose wears her hair tied back for most of the film, only wearing it down when she meets Mac in their motel. The only other time she wears it down is for the baby shower - and she gets some Ship Tease with Winston along the way too.
    • Norah likewise only has her hair down in her scenes with Lynn, where she opens up about her past.
  • Lie Back and Think of England: Norah is shown having meaningless sex that she gets no joy out of after Lynn makes advances on her at a party.
  • The Lost Lenore: Implied to be the case with the girls' mother. She died when they were children, their father hasn't remarried and he does seem a bit scatter-brained.
  • Madonna-Whore Complex: Rose laments that she falls victim to this.
    "I'm good at getting guys to want me. Not date or marry me, but want me."
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Subverted. Norah fits the requirements - quirky sense of fashion, rebellious attitude, encourages the uptight Lynn to loosen up a little. However the story is from Norah's perspective, the out there behavior stems from her mother's death and Lynn breaks off their friendship once she finds out the truth.
  • Missing Mom: Rose and Norah's died when they were children.
  • The Mistress: Rose is in a long-term relationship with Mac, who's married to another woman. They even have a son together. She finally breaks up with him after realizing he's not going to leave his wife for her.
  • Money, Dear Boy: In-universe, as Rose starts Sunshine Cleaning once she hears there's good money in it. Subverted eventually when she realises that she does love what she does.
  • Mood Whiplash: While tressling, Norah initially appears to be having a lot of fun. Her scream of delight suddenly vanishes when she flashes back to her mother's suicide.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Mac is a handsome man, appearing both shirtless and with an Intimate Open Shirt at points.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Rose has a few lingerie scenes whenever she hooks up with Mac, and we're shown her changing into a dress for the baby shower. Said dress is also very flattering.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Rose when she sees Mac and his wife Heather pulling up outside the same gas station.
    • Norah when she realises she started a house fire.
  • Primal Scene: A Deleted Scene shows Oscar hearing his parents banging the shit out of each other.
  • Scatter Brained Senior: Rose and Norah's father, who is always trying to sell various products to anyone who will take them.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here:
    • Norah is introduced storming out of her job.
    • Norah in the memorable scene when she accidentally falls face-first onto a mattress from a crime scene.
    • She ends the film deciding to take a road trip. The original script would show her getting a job at a gorilla reserve in Nevada.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Downplayed but it's implied that Winston has this reaction when he sees Rose dressed up for the baby shower.
  • Ship Tease: Rose has some with Winston, a one-armed man in a supply store.
  • Slice of Life: Not a real plot, besides the two sisters starting the business. The film mainly follows their efforts to improve their lives in some way.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Rose is having an affair with her high school boyfriend, who is already married with a daughter. His wife is shown to be something of a shrew, making Mac seem somewhat sympathetic here, though refusing to leave her diminishes it since he's kept Rose and their son a secret for years (with no solid relationship because of this).
  • Team Title: 'Sunshine Cleaning' becomes the name of Rose and Norah's business.
  • Trailers Always Lie: The trailer made the movie look a comedy that was more about Rose and Norah getting into wacky hijinx at the various crime scenes. While there is some comedy in there, the film is instead more of a Slice of Life and character study, and not as light-hearted as the trailers would have you believe.
  • Troubled Back Story Flashback: One night Norah is prompted to flash back to the day of her mother's suicide.
  • Uptight Loves Wild: Seems to be the reason why Lynn hangs out with Norah. The latter even tries to get her to sit under moving trains for fun.
  • Was It All a Lie?: Lynn asks as much when Norah reveals how she knows her.
  • "What Now?" Ending: The film ends quite openly with Norah deciding to take a road trip, and Rose and her father trying to restart the cleaning business.