Sunshine Cleaning

Life’s a messy business.

Emily as: Norah Lorkowski
Genre(s): Comedy | Drama
Written by: Megan Holley
Directed by: Christine Jeffs
Other Cast: Amy Adams, Alan Arkin, Steve Zahn, Mary Lynn Rajskub
Release Date: April 17, 2009
Production Budget: $8m
Total Worldwide Gross: $16.5m
Filming Locations: Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

A single mom and her slacker sister find an unexpected way to turn their lives around in the off-beat dramatic comedy Sunshine Cleaning.

Once the high school cheerleading captain who dated the quarterback, Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) now finds herself a thirty-something single mother working as a maid. Her sister Norah, (Emily Blunt), is still living at home with their dad Joe (Alan Arkin), a salesman with a lifelong history of ill-fated get rich quick schemes.

Desperate to get her son into a better school, Rose persuades Norah to go into the crime scene clean-up business with her to make some quick cash. In no time, the girls are up to their elbows in murders, suicides and other… specialized situations. As they climb the ranks in a very dirty job, the sisters find a true respect for one another and the closeness they have always craved finally blossoms. By building their own improbable business, Rose and Norah open the door to the joys and challenges of being there for one another—no matter what—while creating a brighter future for the entire Lorkowski family.

Production Info

  • Screenwriter Megan Holley stated that the film is inspired by a 2001 National Public Radio “All Things Considered” report about two women in the Seattle suburbs who started a biohazard removal/cleaning service. Although in real life, they are best friends, not sisters.
  • The script was originally set in Baltimore, Maryland. Director Christine Jeffs fell in love with Albuquerque after flying there to scout the location. The financial incentives offered by the state were a draw, but it was the unique look and feel of the southwestern city that sealed the deal.
  • Character Quotes

  • Rose, you love it when I fuck up, okay? Me screwing up gives you the hugest woody.
  • You really think you can make a ton of cash cleaning up after dead people?
  • Rose, you buy generic cigarettes with couch change. How are you gonna afford private school?
  • She was in a Movie of the Week once, you know. There was this bunch of Hollywood people and they were filming in Old Town. And they saw my mom and they just thought she was beautiful and talented, ’cause they gave her a speaking part. Do you wanna hear it? “I recommend the pecan pie.”
  • Come on, this is trestling. This is what it’s all about. It’s like this big pissed-off God and he’s right up in your face, like, screaming at you, you know? He’s so close, you can smell the metal on his breath.
  • I know that you think that I ruined everything and that I fucked up really huge, and I’m sorry, okay?
  • I don’t need you to take care of me anymore. It’s not your job. It never was.
  • You know what I remember about her funeral? My shoes. They were too small and my feet hurt. That’s what I remember.
  • Norah: He hears this horrible sound. This is how it goes. Snap. Snap, drag. Snap. Snap, drag. And the thing is that he knows that Lobster Man is out there somewhere, and he’s totally screwed ’cause his tongue is stuck to the mailbox.
    Oscar: Well, then why did he lick the mailbox?
    Norah: Because he has OCD and is obsessed with licking mailboxes.
    Oscar: Well, then why wasn’t he in school?
    Norah: Are you gonna let me tell the story or are you gonna drive me crazy?
  • Norah: What did Mac tell you about this, Rose?
    Rose: It’s a crime scene.
    Norah: With blood?
    Rose: Maybe.
    Norah: I hate Mac.
  • Norah: How perfect was he with the one arm?
    Rose: Hmm?
    Norah: The creepy guy, you know. I wonder if he was born like that.
    Rose: He wasn’t creepy.
    Norah: Dude, he has one arm.
  • Rose: They think we’re a couple of hacks.
    Norah: We are a couple of hacks.
  • Lynn: Don’t be nervous. People do this all the time.
    Norah: [About to donate her blood] I’m not nervous. I’m fine. Oh, that’s the needle? That’s a fucking cocktail straw.
  • Lynn: Sometimes I think that when you get high or when you drink, when you alter your consciousness–
    Norah: You don’t drink either?
    Lynn: No. I just think that when you do stuff like that, it weakens you psychically, like it creates cracks and then bad stuff can seep into those cracks and maybe never go away.
    Norah: That’s so weird.
    Lynn: Sorry.
    Norah: You should probably just tell people you’re a Mormon.
  • Oscar: What’s a “bastard”? Jeremy told me I was a bastard. So what’s a “bastard”?
    Norah: It just means your mom wasn’t married when she had you. It’s no big deal. You know, in a couple of years you’re gonna find it’s a free pass to cool, all right? You’ll probably start a band called Bastard Son, use it to impress the chicks. The whole bastard thing is working for you. You’re the coolest bastard I know.
  • Rose: I really wanted to go to that baby shower. So stupid. I just didn’t want those girls looking at me like I was just a maid.
    Norah: You’re better than them, Rose.
  • Quoting: Emily Blunt

    On her character: She has a lot of questions that have never been answered and everything has sort of been swept under the carpet in her family. Because she has unanswered questions about her past, she’s fascinated by other people’s backgrounds. Initially, a biohazard cleaning company is not interesting to Norah, and so she is dragged kicking and screaming to their first gig. But she’s fascinated by other people’s worlds. This is such an intimate look. Other people’s tragedies and the trinkets that surround them are fascinating to her. She becomes drawn into this world and finally has a sort of purpose and she likes that feeling.

    On the crime scene sets: The first crime scene we had to shoot was one of the more mild ones, but there was blood just splattered all over this bathroom wall. They actually managed to get little fleshy pieces stuck on there and that was kind of gross. And so we were cleaning it and one of them got stuck on my toothbrush and I was trying to get it off and I slapped it right on Amy’s shoe. It kind of does gross you out even though you know it’s fake.

    On the script: There aren’t a lot of scripts like this that come along. I read everything and this was the best thing I’d read in a really long time.

    On working with Jason Spevack: He is delightful and he was an angel for this production. He grew in confidence so much and learned to trust his own instincts. And some of them were so wacky and so perfect for this rather strange, eccentric little boy. I think he’s going to steal the show.

    Quoting: Cast and Crew

    Director Christine Jeffs: It was so exciting to imagine who could play Amy’s [Adams] sister. Emily turned out to be perfect. They totally supported each other and were like dynamite together. They just had fantastic chemistry–it was an exciting combination.

    Producer Peter Saraf: It was my favorite movie at the festival [after watching My Summer of Love at Toronto International Film Festival], and I fell in love with both of the performances in that film. And when I went to see The Devil Wears Prada, I was blown away by the fact that it was the same actress. Her performance in one movie was so beautiful and passionate and dramatic, and in the other movie it was laugh-out-loud funny. That’s exactly what Norah needed to be.

    Producer Glenn Williamson: It would have been easy to paint Norah as a character whose a bit of a stoner and who just hasn’t done anything with her time because she’s lazy, but that’s an incredibly boring character. Emily brought a great amount of depth to the role. She’s so naturally funny without pushing it, and she can also just be incredibly sweet and real.

    Co-star Amy Adams: She’s become my partner in crime-or in crime cleanup, as it were. When you’re playing sisters, it’s really important to pick up on each other’s rhythms. And it feels so natural to be working with Emily. I can see her as one of my sisters.

    Critical Response

    Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times: Where Adams’ Rose keeps it together by sheer will, determined to “figure it out,” whatever it is that day, Blunt’s Norah, with her bohemian clothes, her weed and her heavy charcoal smudge of eyes, is mostly content in the role of sarcastic but unreliable sibling. There is something wonderfully easy about the actresses’ relationship on screen — Adams’ steel and Blunt’s slouch perfect counterpoints.

    Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: This funny and touching movie depends on two can-do actresses to scrub past the biohazard of noxious clichés that threaten to intrude. Adams and Blunt get the job done. They come highly recommended.

    Claudia Puig, USA Today: Blunt also is excellent as a dreamy young woman with a cynical exterior. She deftly combines a sly sense of humor with a brusque but endearing honesty, both of which mask her vulnerability.

    Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter: Adams and Blunt play off one another with sisterly combativeness. Their timing and line readings mesh perfectly, producing comic sparks.

    Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: Emily Blunt has been best known until now for her performance as Meryl Streep’s fevered first assistant in The Devil Wears Prada; though it was a small part, almost overshadowed by Anne Hathaway’s star turn, she made it memorably funny. Far from being overshadowed in Sunshine Cleaning, she’s a comic whirlwind with a still, grave center. She is Norah, the younger sister who lives with their father–he’s played by Alan Arkin–and who joins Rose, reluctantly, in her new business venture. Prickly and wry, tough and vulnerable, Norah is a displeaser. She displeases herself, first and foremost, by sabotaging her life at every turn. Where Rose has learned to cover her sadness with brittle good cheer, Norah, lacking any gift for camouflage–or inclination toward happiness–wears her grief on her sleeve, and in the dark beauty of her eyes.

    Awards and Nominations

    Below is a list of all accolades Emily has received for her role in the film.

    NOMINATED: London Critics Circle Film Awards – British Supporting Actress of the Year
    NOMINATED: Satellite Awards – Best Actress in a Supporting Role