Monday, May 11, 2009

Monday Movie Day Reviews

Sunshine Cleaning (2009): Rose Lorkowski cleans up other people's messes. Struggling to provide for her young son while working for a cleaning service, she's also in a thankless relationship with a married police officer. Struggling with her own identity and self-worth, Rose's charming smile and winsome character haven't gotten her out of the rut of her life. Her younger sister, Norah, isn't much better; jobless and living with her eccentric father, her life is characterized by snarkiness and failure.

Then an opportunity comes along. Through her connection with the cop, Rose starts a biohazard cleaning service that cleans up crime scenes. As Rose describes to a group of women at a baby shower, she enters into people's life when something profound has happened and helps them clean up the mess. From suicides to murders and everything in between, Rose and Norah work together to clean up the mess of their own lives while scrubbing the literal blood out of the carpet.

Amy Adams and Emily Blunt portray the two sisters wonderfully; the two are perfectly casted as siblings and their chemistry is phenomenal. The film is filled with hilarious moments between the two of them, as well as some deep moments of empathy and affection. We feel for Rose and Norah and their situation, as they've been dealt some terrible cards in life. The film itself tries a bit too hard to cram in as many indie film cliches as possible, with blurred shots, meditative close-ups of people crying, an indie soundtrack, and beautiful actors portraying not-so-beautiful people (I've never seen Emily Blunt in a role like this. She's the snarky punk girl who smokes too much and has a foul mouth.) The film's narrative also struggles with having too much at once, trying to combine multiple storylines while losing its overall coherence. I also struggled with discerning the overall message of the film. These women aren't supposed to be role models, are they? Are we supposed to feel pity, admiration, or a combination of the two? Both Rose and Norah make plenty of mistakes throughout the film. Norah tells Rose at one point that she's pathetic. We know she means it because we can see it ourselves. Perhaps the message is not that we can rise above our circumstances, but that we can still survive them because we have the support of people we love. It's less about success and more about being present in people's lives.

Despite its flaws and some vulgar content (like I said, Emily Blunt has a foul mouth in the film), the Sunshine Cleaning has an indie charm, some surprising laughs, and touching performances from Adams and Blunt.

Wendy and Lucy (2008): In our dark economic times, here is a film about the ordinary struggles and stresses we all potentially face and the hope that comes from perseverance. Wendy (Michelle Williams) is a young woman traveling to Alaska in search of a new job and a new life. Her only companion is her loyal dog, Lucy. She is thrown a curve ball when her car breaks down in small-town Oregon with little money. Relying on the kindness of strangers and her own resilience, Wendy struggles with doubt and frustration while trying to keep her hope alive.

Set in the lush beauty of Oregon in autumn, Wendy and Lucy embodies the message that some of life's most powerful and profound moments happen in the ordinary. A broken down vehicle, a brief shoplifting stint, being stuck in a strange town alone; these are moments in Wendy's life that almost create a purgatory experience. She is in between her home and her destination, stuck in a wilderness both literally and spiritually. This is a profoundly American film. Wendy is seeking her destiny out west, searching for something more, a new start to her life with only a loyal canine for company. Yet this is a new take on this classic tale. Wendy is a young single woman setting out on her own. She's not the cowboy or the explorer of years past. In the midst of her struggles, Wendy displays a fragility and grace that is wonderfully feminine, all while pressing onward.

Michelle Williams shines as Wendy, giving an affecting performance with very little dialogue. Wendy and Lucy is quiet, realistic, and graceful. There is little dialogue and no soundtrack apart from Wendy's hopeful humming of an unknown melody. It's a brief snapshot of a life in one of its most difficult moments. We're invited to see how Wendy handles her situation and empathize with her in pain and joy.

Meet the Robinsons (2007): Question: what do all the following things have in common?
  • A nerdy-yet-imaginative boy who is adopted.
  • A dark-haired skinny guy with a faux hawk.
  • Totally random sense of humor
  • Peanut allergy jokes that involve someone swelling up and an EpiPen.
  • Time travel.
Answer: the overall plot for Meet the Robinsons. Or my life. Except for the time travel part.

Meet the Robinsons is a Disney animated film that has the frenetic pacing and imagination of an ADD junior higher drinking a Red Bull. Lewis is an orphan with a passion for science and inventions. While at a science fair, he meets a kid named Wilbur, ends up in a time machine, and is whisked away on an adventure into the future. The titular characters are Wilbur's quirky family of inventors. The rest of the characters are a random smorgasbord of weirdos. There are singing frogs, a giant purple squid as a butler, a meatball gun, a robotic hat named Doris, a dinosaur, and an evil villain only known as Bowler Hat Guy.

While the animation isn't quite on par with anything Pixar has ever done, Meet the Robinsons is a film with heart, humor, and a solid message about refusing to quit in the midst of failure. This is my kind of humor. Yes, I love the dry and abstract humor of Wes Anderson or the down-to-earth authenticity of Judd Apatow. But I'm also quite fond of completely random absurdity, the kind of humor that comes out of left field. Like talking frogs at a jazz bar. Or a dinosaur wearing a bowling hat. It's all in Meet the Robinsons.

The General (1927): Look for my review about this wonderful film in a Rarities post later this week!

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