It was on the set of a historical drama about the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan that Emily Blunt and Amy Adams struck up a friendship that would result in a dark-humored movie about two sisters who clean up after blood-soaked corpses for a living.
Welcome to the bizarre world of Hollywood, in which alliances are forged in the most peculiar of circumstances and give birth to projects that at first make you go, “Say what?” In the case of Blunt and Adams, their first encounter took place during the filming of “Charlie Wilson’s War”—Blunt played Tom Hanks’ lover, Adams his Congressional aide—and the outcome, several years later, is the oddball gem, “Sunshine Cleaning.”
“We have a weird inner dialogue that we sort of know what the other one’s thinking,” Blunt recently told MTV News. “It was like I’d known her forever. She still very much feels like my sister.”
Blunt plays Norah, the pot-smoking younger sister who still lives with her father (Alan Arkin, in another sparkling supporting role) and who, by Blunt’s own estimation, is “just directionless and a bit stuck.” Rose (Adams), her older sister and a struggling single mom, strikes on an idea to start a business doing crime scene cleanup, and brings Norah along for the ride.
The attraction for Blunt—aside from the chance to work with her buddy—was that the script engaged in truthful, often dark material without ever becoming maudlin or overly gloomy. “No one wants to see someone walking around crying and being depressed all the time,” said Blunt. “That’s not interesting, and I think for Norah, she’s actually very similar to a lot of people I know—probably including myself—that uses some kind of humor to deflect from how they’re really feeling.”
How Norah is feeling throughout the film is curious and confused, stifled and free-spirited, and Blunt does a remarkable job of making these conflicting emotions both real and relatable. The caustic sarcasm she employed to such hilarious effect in “The Devil Wears Prada” is here used in the service of gallows humor, hurt feelings and the sometimes brutal, sometimes loving back-and-forth that takes place in every family.
Buzz on the film, which opened earlier this month and is expanding to 25 cities this weekend, has been largely positive and box office returns impressive (a $54,000 per-theater average on opening weekend made “Cleaning” the best performing film of the year). In addition to Blunt’s, Adams and Arkin’s performances are first-rate, and make you forget that the film sometimes veers too closely into “Little Miss Sunshine” territory, the 2006 indie darling produced by the same folks as “Cleaning.”
Usually, Blunt tries not to get caught up in how one of her movies is being received. “I don’t really pay attention out of fear that it's not doing well, which has been the case with some of the films I’ve been in.”
This time around, however, she’s taking notice of the buzz and liking what she sees. “Can you believe it?” she asked. “It’s a good statement for what people are really after when they go see a film and we’re really excited by it.”
Is it just us or do Blunt and Adams really look like sisters? Have you seen “Cleaning” yet? Weigh in below with your judgment on the plot, performances and feelings in relation to “Little Miss.”