The drama between Rose and Norah is at the root of Sunshine Cleaning—and as with Curtis Hanson's film, In Her Shoes, the more formulaic elements are overcome by excellent performances. Here it's Adams and Blunt who share the credit, playing off each other as well as Toni Collette and Cameron Diaz played off each other in Hanson's 2005 drama. Arkin is better here than he was in Little Miss Sunshine, providing a sweet parental understanding as opposed to the overbearing, foul-mouthed patriarch of that earlier film.

Sunshine Cleaning saves its strongest material for the final stretch, revealing the shattering event only hinted at earlier in the film, and giving the characters a chance to speak about the spiritual trauma inflicted by that event. As they search for answers to questions about where we go when we die, and how we might contemplate heaven when our earthly lives can seem, in one character's words, so hellish, the film reveals how the pain of life's journey can be eased by asking honest questions about God and eternity, rather than suppressing such questions. The lyrics to the film's closing song bring the film's spiritual themes into sharper focus:

Prepare yourself you know it's a must
Gotta have a friend in Jesus
So you know that when you die
He's gonna recommend you
To the spirit in the sky
Gonna recommend you
To the spirit in the sky
That's where you're gonna go when you die
When you die and they lay you to rest
You're gonna go to the place that's the best.

By the end of the film, the characters in Sunshine Cleaning haven't found the ultimate answers to their fundamental questions, but they've found each other in a new way and have discovered the power of forgiveness. It's a hopeful note on which to conclude.

Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at


  • Smoking/Drinking:  Smoking of joints and cigarettes; drinking.
  • Language/Profanity:  Lord's name taken in vain; foul language; slow learners referred to as "retards"; several discussions of death and suicide; a boy wears a temporary tattoo that reads "Li'l Bastard" and listens to an explanation of what the term means; a man says a "business lie" is OK because it's different from a "life lie."
  • Sex/Nudity:  A woman conducts an affair with a married man; she's shown in bra and panties, and the man's bare backside is shown; man and woman lay down in underwear on bed and begin to make love; a wife confronts a woman who's having an affair with her husband; a woman is shown having passionless sex with a man; a woman expresses her attraction toward another woman, who is unresponsive; a woman says she's good at getting guys to want her, but not to date her or marry her.
  • Violence:  A man puts a loaded gun under his chin and we see his finger as he pulls the trigger. The bullet's impact is not shown, but the aftermath, with blood splattered on ceiling tiles, is; discussion of a finger that was shot off, and which is later shown; a blood-splattered shower wall; vomiting; a needle punctures an arm as part of a blood donation; a blood-soaked chair; a house fire; partial view of a suicide victim in a bathtub.
  • Religion:  Speculation about where people go when they die; a woman speaks out loud to her deceased mother, wondering if she can hear her and whether or not she's in heaven or not; a concluding song speaks of "going up to the spirit in the sky."