(director: Christine Jeffs; screenwriter: Megan Holley; cinematographer: John Toon; editor: Heather Persons; cast: Amy Adams (Rose Lorkowski), Emily Blunt (Norah Lorkowski), Alan Arkin (Joe Lorkowski), Jason Spevack (Oscar Lorkowski), Steve Zahn (Mac), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Lynn), Clifton Collins Jr. (Winston); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Glenn Williamson/Jeb Brody/Marc Turtletaub/Peter Saraf; Overture Films; 2008)

“The laughs are not easy to get.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Pushes the same buttons as “Little Miss Sunshine,” but that one’s a hit and this one’s a misfire. Both films had the same producers and were made as quirky indie personal films. It’s set in Albuquerque’s more humble part of town. Director Christine Jeffs’ (“Sylvia”/ “Rain”/ “Stroke”) offbeat comedy is strained and the laughs are not easy to get. The drama part of the dramedy never kicks in with anything special, but sucks the wind out of the comedy. It imparts words of wisdom through the film’s cuddly good guy Alan Arkin, who tells us “a business lie is not a life lie.” This nod and wink to being a rogue seems oddly flat, twisted ethically and downright spooky.

Since the acting is first-rate (Amy Adams and Emily Blunt are well-suited for their roles as sisters battling with deep emotional wounds, and a usually funny Alan Arkin as the eccentric supportive elderly patriarch is not funny but is at least pleasantly cranky in his thinly written part), one must blame the weak script by Megan Holley for this dysfunctional family drama never amounting to much and remaining dreary, generic looking and unimportant.

Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) is a thirtysomething single mother struggling to raise her seven-year-old bastard son Oscar (Jason Spevack) and at the same time work as a maid while dreaming of being a real estate agent. She must also handle an ongoing affair with a married police detective, Mac (Steve Zahn), someone she dated in high school when she was a popular cheerleader and he was the star quarterback. Norah (Emily Blunt) is Rose’s edgy idler party girl screw-up teenage sister who lives at home with her widowed retired salesman dad Joe (Alan Arkin), a dreamer and schemer who spends his days thinking up daffy ways to get rich quick.

Rose complains that she needs money to remove the misunderstood Oscar from a public school and place him into a more supportive private school, after the principal orders Oscar to take meds and be placed in a slow class for his behavior problems. The savvy Mac clues Rose in that there’s good money to be made cleaning up after crime scenes. Rose, through his police connections, soon opens a biohazard removal/crime scene clean-up service. Things are looking up for Rose, until she accepts an invite to a baby shower with the same girls she knew in high school who looked up to her but now they are all well-to-do matrons and she feels they look down on her as a maid. To attend the shower, she left the unreliable Norah alone to work in a house clean-up of fire hazard material. This turns out to be not such a good idea.

Norah, to no avail, seeks out an older lesbian woman (Mary Lynn Rajskub) as a mother figure, as she’s haunted by the death of her mother when she was a child and feels cheated she never got to know mom.

Clifton Collins Jr. gives a mellow supporting turn as the low-key one-armed cleaning supplies store clerk who befriends both Oscar and his mom.