It’s funny, because I recently read a novel on this same subject: The Mystic Art of Removing All Signs of Death, by Charlie Huston. It used to be (and probably still is, in small towns) that if one of your loved ones killed himself, was murdered, or died and wasn’t found for a week in your home, the coroner was responsible for removing the corpse, and you were responsible for everything else. If you had a lot of money you could probably find a conventional cleaning service that would tidy up the mess, though they probably wouldn’t know how to do it properly. If you had some very good friends, they might take over the task. But other than that, it was up to you to scrub away the blood, find all the bits of skull and brain that Dad spattered all over the study when he ate his pistol, and dispose of the mattress crawling with maggots that had only recently been dining on Grandma. It’s a job that could make septic tank cleaning seem prissy, but somebody has to do it, right?
There are now many companies that provide this service. One team of women who started their own biohazard removal service in Seattle was the inspiration for this film, where sisters Amy Adams and Emily Blunt have seen that there’s good money to be made here and have started their own company. This might not really be the best career choice for the daughters of a suicide, who discovered their own mother’s body floating in a blood-filled bathtub, but who’s to say?
This is not a gruesome movie. We see blood spatter, and stains on mattresses, but the really horrible stuff is off-screen and we only see their reactions to it. (They don’t deal with what might be the most distasteful job companies like this do, which is clean up after hoarders and collectors. Frankly, I’d rather scrape up a bucketful of brains than enter a house where 200 cats have been living, or someone has been collecting meat without a freezer.) After some scenes establishing that the job is indeed disgusting, we back away from that and learn a little more about what is the really fascinating side of the work. Like cops, they find themselves confronting the sad residue of lives, and consoling people whose universe has just imploded. Actually, I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of this sort of thing and a little less of the family troubles of the sisters, Amy’s little boy, and their enthusiastic but impractical father, Alan Arkin. But I’m not complaining. This is a good little movie on a small scale, well written and directed by women: Christine Jeffs and Megan Holley.
And Amy Adams continues to amaze. She can shine in total fluff like Enchanted, where she plays a cartoon character come to life, through comedy like Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, to heavy stuff like Doubt. She can make a small part in a bad movie seem memorable, like Amelia Earhart in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, and even go up against Meryl Streep—twice!—without fear. I see she has two movies in the can and two more in development, and I look forward to all of them.