Perhaps it is important to good actors to do mediocre films for you to recognise how good they are. Ditto with good directors. The only question is why would said people, possibly at the height of their careers choose such flat projects? Its a question that sprung to mind during SUNSHINE* Cleaning, a film whose gestation I am about to guess. Because it stars Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin and was produced by the same team that produced Little Miss SUNSHINE. All of whom, one assumes, hooked up during the 2007 awards season when Amy was there with Junebug, Emily with The Devil Wears Prada and the rest of them with Little Miss SUNSHINE. Christine Jeffs (the director) so far has not been nominated for any major awards but was probably doing the rounds post Rain (good) and Sylvia (not so good), and possibly guessed that the cast and pedigree would do wonders for her career.

So the good in the film is obvious. This feels like a family. Emily and Amy convince as sister, Arkin convinces as their Dad. Their trauma, of their mothers death, is low key melodrama and the cross Amy bears (mistress of a cop – highlight of her life being the head cheerleader) again all convinces. Even the indie quirk in the story, that they start a crime scene clean-up firm is plausible and not all that quirky. And all of this plausibility can also be read as just being ordinary, because unless this is your life, there isn’t much interesting about the tiny problems and victories of these characters. Even the side journeys via death and Mary Lynn Rajskub are not all that interesting. There are a few moments of humour, there are a few moments of drama, there are lots of moments where you empathise with the general air of disappointment. But in conjuring something so real it feels ordinary, it also ends up a wee bit – er – dull. It lacks any conviction of melodrama, and squanders the promise of black comedy.

So what comes out of it well? Oddly everyone. Jeffs directs well, she manages to create a seedy, but not that seedy, vision of lower class Alberquerque. Adams and Blunt, as said above, convince totally. They both manage to sum up mild fuck-ups, dealing with their lives as well or badly as people do (Blunt gets the lions share of the subtlety, Adams gets to play lead – its a fair divvying out between them and they do have a palpable on screen chemistry). Alan Arkin gets to play irascible old guy, the only role left for him, but at least he doesn’t die in this one. Even the writing comes away with a fair few honours, avoiding cliché where possible and giving Amy and Emily enough to work with. Indeed the only thing wrong with SUNSHINE Cleaning is that it has a dull story, which meanders through dullsville to a pretty dull happyish ending. When the plot was being baked, they discovered they didn’t have enough drama yeast, but tried to bake it anyway. It didn’t rise. So you walk away completely underwhelmed, enjoying the acting but not really the film.

*Perhaps they should have got Danny Boyle to direct. He has won an Oscar now, and has also already made a SUNSHINE film.