December 5, 2009
Capitalism CostarsBy Joe Gimenez
Despite the vast leftist wasteland of Hollywood -- one in which a pathological mocker can produce garbage like Capitalism: A Love Story -- the movie Sunshine Cleaning delivers a surprisingly refreshing look at capitalism's role in developing human virtues.
It's doubtful that the writer (Megan Holley) is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, having been inspired to write her screenplay based on an NPR "news" piece in 2001. Nonetheless, the film's better points wouldn't have been believable without a backdrop of capitalism, and as such, Sunshine should be a must-see movie even months after its fairly nondescript release earlier this year.
Be forewarned: This review does not take pains to hide the ending. By reading further you agree to learn how the film ends.
The story is about Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams), a single mom in her early thirties who's slugging it out as a cleaning company employee, schlepping for other women her age who are thoroughly bourgeois in their marriages, careers, and family lives. Not that there's anything wrong with that...
By contrast, Rose has Oscar (Jason Spevack), a bastard son in elementary school; a slacker sister (Emily Blunt); and a retired but restless father (Alan Arkin). Rose is having a motel-room fling with a local, married Albuquerque policeman.
So far it's fairly typical movie-wasteland fare, but the conservative viewer starts to get interested when Rose is called to visit Oscar's principal and teacher. The boy has been illicitly licking walls, pencil sharpeners, and his teacher's leg. This last one is enough to make the school officials determine that Oscar needs "special class" -- with "retards," as Oscar says later -- and that he is destined to suffer the school's "three strikes, drugged out" policy (my paraphrase). Rose is not buying. She unceremoniously walks Oscar out of the school, promising him and herself that she'll figure something out. Hmm...different.
It gets better. Oscar's situation causes the desperate Rose to double down on her resolve. She decides to leave the comfort (and low pay) of her daily cleaning job and pursue her own business, one suggested to her earlier by her illicit lover: a niche enterprise that cleans rooms where people have died. Crime scenes. Accidents. Suicides.
And this is where capitalism steps in to get costar credit. Once the decision is made to go capitalism's route (and eschewing government handouts or other liberal prescriptions for failure), the film begins its little lessons about the power of capitalism and entrepreneurship to address need and forge better human beings, despite -- or because of -- its hardships.
Take, for instance, a little scene where Rose and Norah visit a cleaning supply store after their first remediation job. While they are bumping around the aisles, a competitor enters the store and grouses to Winston (Clifton Collins, Jr.), the store owner, that some amateurs charged only $500 for a "decomp" job and illegally dumped a bloody mattress. He wonders whether Winston has seen anything of the new market entrants (not in so many words, of course).
Despite seeing the sisters knocking around his aisles, Winston says he doesn't know of a new company. Capitalism appears again: There's no real reason for Winston to favor one competitor over the over. Having two companies or more should mean more revenue for him. Capitalism is not a zero-sum game. In fact, when the Lorkowskis step up to the register, and with the competitor safely gone, Winston slips into the back room and produces manuals about the rules and regulations for biohazard cleanups. He knows his new customers need to become legal with the state. Otherwise, his business is limited to the existing number of crime scene cleaners.
Oh, and did I mention that Winston has one arm, so he'd otherwise be unable to perform the hard-duty cleaning he needs others to perform for him to sell his cleaning agents, vacuums, hazmat suits, gloves, etc.? Again, isn't capitalism a beautiful thing (Michael Moore's indictment notwithstanding), allowing everyone to gain something according to their individual abilities or disabilities? In fact, no matter the man's handicap, he's an accomplished small plastic model maker, channeling his profits and his time into an endeavor that's meaningful to him -- even if it's hard to accomplish, one hand and all.
But the little lessons of virtue formation don't stop there.
When Rose is lying in her hotel room bed one night, stood up by her adulterous lover, she seeks solace from the noxious Girl Power mantra -- "I am strong. I am powerful." -- and then achieves self-awareness -- "I'm a f------ loser" -- as the reality of her sinful tryst sets in. Yet again, we have rebellion from the Hollywood left's self-esteem machine and a return to the human's natural quest for dignity.
So to recap, the threat of the public school drugging her son has caused Rose to abandon the liberal matrix and exit her dead-end, low-paying job. Opportunity exists. She retreats to entrepreneurship and it gives her a modicum of success, producing financial rewards and the more important but intangible leap in self-worth. This in turn causes her to realize that what she's doing with her policeman lover (with pregnant wife) is wrong. She's been prepared to regain her dignity as a woman. And she does.
The next few scenes dealing with Rose's personal life have her ending her adultery. The viewer gets the sense that Rose appreciates Winston's triumph over his handicap, even to the point that the viewer suspects Rose and Winston might have a future together. It's possible, but never really substantiated beyond other than Rose's musing smiles. And that's another great thing about Sunshine Cleaning: the movie never gets sappy. No Hollywood happy endings. It leaves the viewer to contemplate that life is hard; things may work out, or they may not. We can only hope -- with real hope in providence.
Sunshine Cleaning has more conservative attractions. The father repeatedly excoriates the public school system. Norah is repulsed by a lesbian advance. A party reefer is rejected for reasons of preserving mental acuity. The father has some successes and failures at his apparently serial entrepreneurial ventures, but he never gives up. Even the topic of suicide is treated as a hardship to be overcome by the survivors, not the final, selfish resolution of personal hardship.
And finally, capitalism's ability to draw the family together gets one last cameo. After Norah accidentally burns down a client's house and Rose shuts down the business because of the debt, Pops steps in. He sells his house, pays the debt, and invests in a new business van for Rose. The storyline continues with Rose's dad giving her a new, remade Lorkowski Family Cleaning van and joining her enterprise as employee-partner.
The hope in Sunshine Cleaning resides in Rose and her father and their freedom to take care of themselves and their family. The government is never called upon. No TARP. No Small Business Administration loans. No Obama. No "Yes We Can." No whining about not having health care or their inability to afford it. Instead, self-reliance is joined with the importance of the good business relationships and family members helping family members.
It's a refreshing bit of sunshine in this otherwise dark, socialist-takeover year of 2009. It's a prescription for what will save America once Obama is gone, and it could help inspire some of the people suffering this Christmas season.
[Sunshine Cleaning is currently available on DVD.]
Joe Gimenez is a freelance writer and independent publicist in Austin, Texas.