Bad things happen every day. Car crashes, murders, suicides—the media devours all of these stories, trying to capture the attention of readers, viewers or listeners who love to slow down for the wreckage. But once the situation has been resolved and the injured/departed removed from the scene, who’s going to clean up the mess?
In every life come horrendous incidents as well. When these tragedies unfold and the injured/departed are loved ones, there’s a much deeper reaction but messes to tidy up just the same.
In Megan Holley’s smartly written script, the intersection of sudden passings that create a media frenzy or hit home is successfully navigated to induce belly laughs (“He’s over here in fishing” is an early double-barrel howler during a rifle purchase that goes terribly wrong), chuckles (Alan Arkin playing a hapless business schemer is a constant delight) and tears (distant, evolving memories of a long-dead mom provide quiet balance to the generally humourous tone).
At the centre of these comings and largely splattered goings are two sisters. Single mom Rose (Amy Adams sweeps through the wide-ranging role with zest, enthusiasm and just the right touch of simmering self-anger) was a great success cheering for others during high school (bedding but unable to punt the quarterback into her personal end zone) but now spends her days cleaning the houses of her much more successful classmates. Son Oscar (engagingly portrayed by wide-eyed Jason Spevack) seems to be too smart for his own good: a string of disruptions—the last, hilariously, a sudden Aunt-inspired licking fetish—results in expulsion.
The younger sister—and frequently Oscar’s anything-goes babysitter (“Being a bastard is a free pass to cool,” she explains to her ever-inquisitive nephew) can’t find herself or her customers, getting instantly fired when the burgers on delivery become a different sort of ground beef. Emily Blunt is ideally cast as Norah, adding much spice to the family mix—a delicious hint of playing for the other team while her equally motherless instant friend nibbles on a proffered necklace generates a bit of intriguing heat that is never rekindled.
Conveniently (for the plot), Rose is the willing mistress of married-with-children gridiron leader, Mac (Steve Zahn brings the character to believable life only to have the script slammed in his face and ditched). Knowing of her financial woes (the only school that will accept Oscar is a hugely expensive private institution), the Albuquerque police detective suggests Rose upscale her cleansing abilities from tony houses to crime scenes—a real growth industry where every grisly death is money in the bank for those who have the stomach for the aftermath of expired human remains.
Before you can say “call for your dead,” the sisters swap their aprons for bio-coveralls and begin a career of scrapping blood off the walls. Much of the film’s humour comes from learning the ropes during their first few wipe-ups. Winston (Clifton Collins Jr., always smiling on cue)—a purveyor of industrial-strength cleaning supplies—becomes their disposable advisor who might just want a piece of more than his neophyte customers’ business. The more serious side explores the pent-up recollections that begin to overflow just as the siblings work through their own family tragedy.
Director Christine Jeffs has deftly pulled everything together, resulting in a film that anyone who has ever suffered an unexpected loss—or those who are considering an early exit—would be well-advised to experience. Along the journey, a covey of songs and original music from Michael Penn—the acoustic guitar work is superb—help support the tone and subtle feelings that are carefully crafted and lovingly presented. JWR