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‘Sunshine Cleaning’ leaves a whiff of staleness

The performances are all amiable and sympathetic enough, but “Sunshine Cleaning” is nothing if not the Ghost of Sundance Past.

Any movie that has “Sunshine” in the title and features both Alan Arkin and a run-down van is already begging for comparisons. But while “Sunshine Cleaning” doesn’t borrow too heavily from “Little Miss Sunshine,” this new film methodically follows the Sundance Film Festival formula.

Working-class people in fly-over country who miss their dead mommy? Check. A cast featuring one or more pretty young rising actresses wearing unflattering clothes and/or hair and makeup? Check. Sad sacks reaching a turning point in their lives that puts them in an unusual situation or occupation? Check, check, check.

Amy Adams stars as Rose Lorkowski, a one-time head cheerleader whose life after high school has been decidedly less glamorous; she now works for a maid service, cleaning the homes of her former classmates. Rose talks a lot about getting her real estate license, but on those nights when she leaves her young son with her slacker sister Norah (Emily Blunt), Rose is really having an affair with her high-school boyfriend Mac (Steve Zahn), now a cop currently married to one of Rose’s fellow ex-cheerleaders.

Rose wants to raise enough money to send her kid to private school — and there’s no relying on her con-man father Joe (Arkin) for any financial stability — so Mac suggests to her that she go into business cleaning up crime scenes, since the big money is in mopping up all the viscera after dead bodies are taken away.

Rose enlists Norah in this scheme, and the two learn the ropes from Winston (Clifton Collins, Jr.), the one-armed proprietor of the cleaning supplies shop, who gives Rose vital bits of information like how you’re not supposed to chuck a blood-soaked mattress in a dumpster.

Norah finds herself getting too involved in the lives of the dead people they’re cleaning up after — she finds a packet of old photos in one woman’s trailer and sets out to find the woman’s daughter (Mary Lynn Rajskub).

The performances are all amiable and sympathetic enough, but “Sunshine Cleaning” is nothing if not the Ghost of Sundance Past. (Norah’s fetishistic collection of her dead mother’s cigarette butts feels like something out of “Manny & Lo,” and even the whole crime-scene clean-up shtick was already explored in “Curdled.”)

There’s a faint whiff of condescension throughout the film, from Rose’s shabby house to her cheap-hotel rendezvous with Mac to the tacky nouveau-richeness of the houses she cleans. “Sunshine Cleaning” won’t leave much of a residue on your memory before it gets flushed out of theaters.