Posted by: Tina M | 19 July , 2010

Sunshine Cleaning; an unexpected queer moment in my day

So, I’ve heard about Sunshine Cleaning, in that way that it’s been recommended to me by close friends, like Netflix. . . but I kept finding excuses to not watch it.

But yesterday, after my computer foiled my plan to watch Foxy Brown in the most brutal way.

I've never had my privilege/entitlement revoked so suddenly and unexplainably.

I ended up turning to my instant queue . . . and Sunshine Cleaning.

I would have to give it pretty high marks even though there were some cliches. (excentric loner kid connecting with older man specifically Alan Arkin; sleeping with a married man who will never leave his wife for you, trying to impress high school class mates years later. . . ) but there were also a lot of pleasant surprises.

The premise of running a cleaning business for crime scenes/other biohazard situations is automatically intriguing. It’s such a “Dirty Jobs” episode, when unhappy accidents spill all over businesses and homes. It’s also a reflection on death and family (two topics that always loom very close to my heart).

There are moments throughout the movie when the setting and characters are so well placed they tell the entire backstory of one of the deceased in a few shots or in some cases it can take the whole movie-  But what I appreciated most about this movie is a sense of holding on to the past and opening up to new possibilities in the future.

But the real reason I’m writing about it, besides to express my crush on dark horse in the running Winston in the movie. He plays a one-armed owner of the cleaning supply store that they go to almost by accident and are immediately swept under the gentle wing of Mr. Clifton Collins Jr. Thank you for creating a cool and charming character that is “differently abled” without being focused on it. In fact, we aren’t even told the story behind the loss of his arm, even though the eccentric little kid came so close as to ask “isn’t it hard to build model planes with just one hand?”

Ok, so I am left with the question of why he didn’t get to hook up with the “trophy” girl at the end, but perhaps it was the only way they could keep it from being too neatly wrapped up in the end. (But really, it would’ve been awesome!)

So, part of the story line is that one of the first houses they’re cleaning is one that they are supposed to throw everything away, because the owner had passed away. In the process of cleaning, the social misfit of a younger sister (Norah) finds a fanny pack with the woman’s ID and pictures of a young woman, presumably her daughter. Unable to throw away these keepsakes, she goes stalker and tracks the woman down to her home and follows her to work at the blood bank. They casually become friends but share a level of intimacy unseen in the Norah’s other relationships. At one point, they are at a party together and Lynn mentions that her boyfriend seems to be winning the necklace game (they cut to a shot of a sleazy boy with two girls nuzzling his neck – eating the candy necklace he’s wearing.

Norah remarks that he’s not really her boyfriend. . .

Lynn says that she’ll try a white one.     She confidently swoops in while Norah throws back her head in surprise and gasps lightly as she feels the brush of Lynn’s lips against her skin.

Of course, they later reaffirm Norah’s heterosexuality by showing her displeased face as her “not really boyfriend” is hammering away at her like the straight stereotype of a guy that doesn’t know how to do it right. Lynn and Norah share other exchanges but rarely as physically close, until Norah finally reveals her original intention of finding Lynn, to return her mom’s belongings.

As all Lesbian love stories, it couldn’t work out that well. Lynn gets angry, reveals that her mother was an alcoholic (and apparently bad enough to be forgotten and left alone by Lynn), and yells with disappointment, “I thought you were really interested in me. . . ”

Maybe I’m reading too much into the story, it could just be a mirroring of the other heterosexual women’s relationships that her sister is engaging in (bitchy competition with ex-cheerleaders). Or it could be two socially awkward outcasts finding comfort in someone like them. But when I heard it, I heard desire.

And maybe I should just hold out for more obvious portrayals of queerness, but I’m tired of the overdetermined stereotype that reinforces our ideas of what we should be to be a part of a community. I appreciate something so quietly assumed that Norah could be bisexual without question, not merely because of an identity, but because of behavior and desire.

I really enjoyed it.

And of course, there were obvious reflections on my own family, our messes that I’ve had the privilege and burden to clean myself. I appreciate the memories that are rubbed into the calluses of my hands, the moments when my past comes tumbling out of a closet and needs some dusting and straightening up. It’s good for the mental health. Sunshine Cleaning. . .


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