Sunshine Cleaning, Seen Sunday afternoon April 12, 2009 at the Regal UA Kaufman Astoria 14, Auditorium #8. 1.5 slithy toads.
It's been a busy time of year and I wanted to do some relaxing stuff over the weekend to kind of recharge before the more busy-ness of getting ready for and heading off to London Book Fair. I wish I could have done better than these two OK comedies.
Let's do Sunshine Cleaning first, becauses that at least is a movie I'll remember. For the wrong reasons, but I'll remember it. Amy Adams has been generally delightful in almost every role she's been in beginning with the little indie movie Junebug a few years ago, and including an Oscar nomination for Doubt and the lead role in Enchanted. Here, she's charming us as Quirk #1 in a 4-Quirk family. Her dad is played by Adam Arkin, so of course he'll be quirky. Her son is having trouble in school, and it's the need to get tuition for him to go to private school after being kicked out of (yet another) public school for inappropriate licking that gets her to join her sister (i.e., the 4th Quirk) in a business called Sunshine Cleaning that will specialize in tidying up after murders and deaths and the like. While her father tries to peddle black-market shrimp and her sister stalks Mary Lynn Rajskub, Amy Adams takes a crash course in biohazard disposal. All this is being played for laughs, and there are enough of them for the movie to be moderately pleasant.
However, the movie falls apart in the final act when all of the Quirks come home to roost, leading to an epidemic of stupid and/or illogical behavior that wasn't much fun to me at all.
In the business Amy Adams is in, getting jobs from insurance companies is, we are told, one of the important steps to success. So when Adams gets her first job from State Farm, naturally she decides that this job is less important than a baby shower. That might be OK if the shower was for a beloved family member, but it's for some character who's hardly been in the movie and the shower is this dreadful thing, so it's totally stupid for her to prioritize the shower over the job. She sends her somewhat absent-minded sister to start the job and wait for her to come for the finish, and her sister ends up setting fire to the house she's supposed to be cleaning in a Rube Goldberg sort of way involving a bed, a cat, a candle, curtains, and an overdose of ditziness. And then redemption comes after this when the dad played by Arkin does something completely out of character that's totally inconsistent with anything we've seen of him.
Ultimately, the movie is short, pleasant and stupid. If they could have made it short, pleasant and smart it would have been better.
I liked I Love You, Man just a tad bit more because it doesn't get stupid. The plot is certainly comparable to other movies from the Judd Apatow factory (as director, writer, producer) and stars Apatow veteran Paul Rudd (40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, as well as the delightful Role Models and Clueless and many other films. He's often the best thing in an Apatow movie and better than that when he can show more charm and intelligence and not just go around being vulgar as the Apatow movies usually require. Well, Role Models was vulgar but in a smart and mocking way of its own while Apatow movies are often vulgar for vulgarity's sake or out of laziness. We see Rudd getting engaged at the start of the movie, and then deciding that he needs more guy friends to round out his wedding party. There's a bit of contrivance here as in Sunshine Cleaning because Rudd's gay brother could easily enough be his best man (a nice pleasant supporting turn by Andy Samberg of Saturday Night Live), but Sunshine Cleaning hangs itself on contrivance while this movie takes the somewhat more acceptable course of asking you to buy in at the start but then lets the plot dominos fall more or less logically. Rudd's search eventually puts him and Jason Segel (another Apatow veteran) together for some male bonding with somewhat predictable but of course not fatal implications for Rudd's relationship with his fiancee.
The movie is rarely uproarious but is almost always pleasant. It's a little flat and maybe five or ten minutes too long. It has too many ingredients that can too often go awry, but it manages to work well enough in spite of but certainly doesn't thrive. It's a decent bargain matinee, great second run at the discount house, more than fine enough to DVD, but for the most part kind of defines the midway mark in my ranking system.