The first scene we see Joe Lorkowski (Alan Arkin) banging on a bedroom door trying to wake Norah Lorkowski (Emily Blunt) to wake up, tell her she is late for work. Norah unwillingly wakes up and gets ready.
Then we meet Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) who was dressed in a cleaning outfit with the company name on the shirt. Rose was cleaning up a mess left behind by high school kids who are having a house/pool party at a big house. Rose stares at the kids playing outside as she day dreams, she even tries to say something to one of the kid coming in to grab a drink, but the kid rushes off and does not even notice Rose.
Just when Rose was done with her duties, she goes to report to the lady who owns the house, and the lady, Heather, recognizes Rose from the start. Turns out they were both on the cheerleading squad back in high school, and Heather said she was always jealous of Rose because she was the captain of the squad and was also dating the star quarterback. When Heather asks about what Rose is doing now, Rose stutters and says that she is cleaning houses as a part time thing, and her real job is in real estate. But turns out Heather is also in real estate, and when asked who Rose is with right now, Rose just said that she has not yet decide who to go with. They then exchanged information and Heather invites Rose to attend her baby shower in a couple of weeks. Rose agrees and rushes off.
Next we see Norah working in a burger restaurant owned by some Asians. Norah does not seem too enthusiastic and she tripped white delivering the burgers to the customers at the tables. Norah was immediately fired as she threw her apron to the ground and storms out the restaurant with Asian lady yelling at her and chasing her out. We then see this scene in slow motion with Rose taking trash out and Norah storming out the restaurant, depicting their miserable job and life. Just to mention here, the setting of this is suburban America, possibly in the Midwest.
Next scene we see a guy sitting in a van outside the gun shop. He breathes out and takes a shotgun bullet from a box and puts it in his pocket and walks into the gun shop. Inside, he asks about hunting and says he would like to see a certain shotgun. They owner was very friendly and gives the man a gun that he thinks would fit him perfectly. While the man examines the gun, he secretly loads the gun with the bullet he had from his pocket, and goes on to point the under his chin and blows his own head off.
Then we see Mac (Steve Zahn) as a detective taking notes about the incident at the gun shop. He was disgusted with the scene, which had brain matters all over the store. Then comes the cleanup crew, who seems to be privately owned because they took cash from the store clerk themselves. Mac sees this as the guys professionally cleans up the mess.
Mac then goes and meets Rose at a motel room, as it is their regular place to meet up and have sex.
Rose says goodbye to her son Oscar and she warns Norah not to tell him scary stories before he sleeps. Rose goes takes off to go on a date with Mac, at the motel.
To add a note here, Norah and Rose have this thing about old black and white movies. They watch old movies on television every night, especially scenes with waitresses because their mother was in one of the movie one time. The mother had killed herself while the two girls were very young, but she was really beautiful and the director even gave her a line to say in a movie even though she was just a waitress. Rose and Norah never know the name of that movie, so they are determined to find out.
Rose says that she needs money because her son Oscar keeps getting in trouble at school and got kicked out just recently. Rose mentions that she needs to send Oscar to private school so is wondering if Mac knows anyway she can make some money. This is when Mac mentions about the crime-scene cleanup crew that makes a lot of money in cash by just doing almost exactly the same thing that Rose does daily. So that gets Rose to start thinking as she proceeds the very next day to post an ad in the newspaper about her business. Sunshine Cleaning, she calls it, with a logo of the sun that her son Oscar drew.
Within a few days, Rose gets a call from a man demanding a cleanup job. Rose asks Norah to come along since she is out of work as well. They arrive at an old apartment complex with the landlord there giving them the keys and showing them the room where an old couple had a bad fight, and the wife shot the husband in the bath tub. Rose and Norah’s only equipment was the ones that Rose uses on cleaning houses, so they were scrubbing blood off the wall with toothbrush and Windex. They got the job done, and the landlord happily pays them five hundred dollars. The two girls jumped up and down and drove off.
In the meantime, since Oscar has no more school, he stays home with his grandfather, Joe and listens to him talk about business plans. Joe took some popcorn stash and tries to sell in bunch to a local candy store, but the store clerk keeps refusing to buy. While they are chatting and negotiating, Oscar goes to a little girl at the store and tells her that he read somewhere that popcorn makes people invincible. The girl does not believe him but walks away and then asks her mother to get her some popcorn. That is when the mother comes and interrupts Joe and the store clerk and demands some popcorn. Then we see Joe shaking Oscar’s hands outside the store complimenting Oscar for being a great salesman because they just sold all their popcorn units to this store.
As for Rose and Norah, the next job came calling at an old house because some crazy lady finally killed herself and left a big mess. The only thing that Rose and Norah was asked to do was to throw everything out. The house is covered with rotten food and decomps. It was a tough task but they still took it and did a great job. In the house, while cleaning, Norah found a purse that was hidden inside the couch. Inside the couch was the wallet of the lady that killed herself and a lot of pictures of a young girl stacked together, with the age of each particular picture of the girl written on the back. Instead of throwing the stuff away like Rose advices, Norah hid it and wants to take it to the girl inside the picture.
Rose decided after this job is that they need to restock on supplies and cleaning products, so they went to a professional. In the store, the storekeeper is called Winston, and he only had one arm as he was building model airplanes since the business is slow. Rose was pointed to where she needs to get all her equipments when another man walks in. The man was heard saying that he cannot believe some nonprofessionals are trying to compete with his business right now. He also said they probably do not even know the rules about biohazard and all the restrictions and laws about this job. Winston immediately understands that Rose and Norah are the ones the man was talking about, so since he took a liking of Rose, he guides her to a bunch of seminars and classes and exams to the license of this line of work, and Rose kindly accepts the offer.
We then see Rose calling Mac at his house when a kid picks up the phone. Rose is just asking Mac more about these crime scene information but Mac tells her that she cannot call the house since his wife might pick up the phone. Rose somehow still believes that Mac is trying to leave his wife and come to her.
Norah then tracks down the girl in the pictures and finds out where she lives and follows the girl. The girl’s name is Lynn and she works as a nurse in a blood bank, and Norah lies to Lynn that she is only coincidentally following her and would like to give blood. The two of them quickly became friends.
The next job, Rose pulls up in a van and is looking more professional than they were before. They have all the right gear and equipment this time. But they see a grandma outside a house in shock as she tries to tell them that her husband died in the basement and she just calls them to come clean up. Rose asks Norah to go deal with the body and the mess while Rose decides to sit down with the grandma until her son comes to pick her up. While sitting down, Rose cries with the grandma, as Rose decides that she wants to be loved too, and not just meeting in a motel room weekly to a man that would never leave is wife.
Rose goes home that night and Mac was at her house waiting for her. Rose tells him about what she wants to do with her life and goes on to break up with Mac. Mac leaves after he gives Rose a business card holder as a gift.
Next we see Norah and Lynn out enjoying their time together, and Norah takes Lynn to a place where she goes when she wants to get lost and vent. They go to a bridge under the railroad tracks and feel the rush of the train when it passes by. Norah is seen crying and flashing back to discovering her mother’s body in the bathroom while she was little. After that, they went to a diner and Norah decides to come clean and give the purse to Lynn and said she probably wants to know what happens to her own mother. Not only was Lynn not appreciative of this gesture, she was furious. Lynn was so mad that Norah had lied to her, and she also said that her mother was a drug-using alcoholic who she had not kept in touch with for years because she refused to be any part of it. Lynn storms off and asks Norah to never call again.
Grandpa Joe then is seen waiting in a parking lot with Oscar. Joe’s new business plan is to buy some shrimps from the deliveryman for a cheap price and then sell them to restaurants for a higher price. But unfortunately, the shrimp is hard to keep fresh and all the restaurants refused to buy it from him. Joe had no choice but to keep the shrimp in his bathtubs, and stank up the entire house.
The next day Rose decides to attend that baby shower that Heather is hosting, but they got a call for the next job. Rose tells Norah to take care of it herself and drops Oscar off at Winston’s store to watch over him for a bit. Norah keeps telling Rose to not attend but Rose insists that she needs to prove to all her high school friends that she has made something for herself, and she has to go.
At the baby shower, Rose is questioned about her line of work, and was looked down very much by her peers. But she did not care and was actually really excited about her life and her job and her family, so Rose left the baby shower midway.
But While Norah is cleaning up the house on her own; she manages to drop the candle onto the curtains and could not put out the fire as she kept on screaming for Rose to help. By the time Rose got to the site, firemen had already arrived, but the house was burnt to the ground. Rose and Norah argued and they said this job is over, as Rose needs to use all the money they made to pay off the insurance.
Rose then goes to pick up Oscar at Winston’s at a really late hour. Winston was a very sweet man and did not mind taking care of Oscar. Rose begins to cry and vent about her life and how difficult it is to be her. Winston comforted her, and Rose invites Winston to attend Oscar’s birthday next week. Winston complied.
At the birthday party, Winston brought cool gifts to Oscar and Oscar was mesmerized by the whole event and the whole crowd, he was a very happy kid.
At night, Rose goes to the van, and turns on the walkie-talkie and begins to talk as if her mother is on the other side. Rose tells the mother that she is selfish and stupid for leaving them, and that she would have been great to be around because she is now missing out on a lot of great stuff that’s happening in their lives.
That very same night, as Rose is getting ready to sleep, she catches the glimpse of the TV that is playing a waitress scene. She immediately notices its her mother and she calls Norah to wake up and watch the same channel. As they had both expected the mother was so beautiful on television, as they both cried and watched that short little scene when the mother says her one-liner.
The very next day, as Rose is getting ready to work as a house cleaning lady, grandpa Joe stops her and said that he has a new business partner. He said that Winston and him talked during the birthday party and he has decided to sponsor their business as crime scene cleanup company. Even though Norah is taking on her own job elsewhere, Joe says that he is the new partner. As they got the call for the new job, Joe was hesitant about walking into the house because of the smell. Rose turns and tells him that he will get used to it. Joe puts on is mask and walks in.
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