‘Junebug’ is a miniature triumph, the result of putting a family under the microscope and dissecting them for the purpose of examination and amusement. Made in the tradition of other small town family films, it proves that quirky characters are interesting and funny but quirky families are even more so.
It is about a newly married couple George (Alessandro Nivola) and Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), who meet at the beginning of the film at an art exhibition, fall in love and eventually marry. Many months later, Madeleine, an art collector for a Chicago gallery, has the opportunity to visit North Carolina, George’s hometown, to meet an eccentric artist and strike a deal with him, and they decide to also visit George’s family home and spend a few days with them while they are there. This becomes the setup for unspoken confrontations and attempts at reconciliation and assimilation into a markedly different society.
The endearing quality of ‘Junebug’ is obviously the director Phil Morrison’s sincerity in the presentation of this family that results from extremely good observation and winning characterizations. We witness a laundry list of emotions – George’s embarrassment and guilt at being successful in the city and the envy and disdain it brings to his brother Johnny, the small town pettiness of their commanding mother, the rural simplicity and sincerity of Johnny’s gregarious and chatty wife Ashley (Amy Adams, more about her later), the disregard and inertness of the subdued father and the sophisticated disparity of Madeleine, who tries her best to fit in but still manages to keep everyone at a distance.
The central theme of ‘Junebug’ is obviously the difficulty in communication that we sometimes face, especially with those closest to us. The indications of this are immense – Johnny’s viewing of Madeleine’s openness and helpful conduct as sexual advances, and Ashley’s inability to emotionally connect with her husband following her pregnancy are two of the strongest, but the most underwritten of these, the bitterness that the brothers have for each other, lingers on the longest, especially after a series of events in the final act.
Each character remains happy yet painful while yearning for something. They are all funny in their straightforwardness and the movie doesn’t look at them in a condescending way nor pass judgment on who they are, a method used to similar effect by the Coen brothers in ‘Fargo’. Without highlighting the delightful character of Ashley, as brought to life by Amy Adams, ‘Junebug’s’ compliments cannot be considered complete. She radiates with life and vivacity, even if she speaks enough to make up for the silence of others and despite not being the brightest of people, she possess an honest vernacular pattern which makes her the darling of the film, if not the family. And just like Ashley, ‘Junebug’ ends up being something very rare - bittersweet and tremendously well rounded, rewarding viewers with a film that is intimate and truly heartfelt.
- by Faizan Rashid [Rated 4.5 out of 5]