There are aspects of the South that this film captures that I've rarely seen expressed so clearly and accurately on film. The odd inferiority complex, which is the most prominent and elusive, the commitment to religion, the familial devotion, the silent father, the nosey neighbor, the verdant landscape, the meddling mother, the racist, loyal Confederate artist -- all of it is here and expressed in all its honorable integrity and ridiculousness. The film is an achievement on the level of Faulkner in this way, but it obviously lacks in others.
Amy Adams's break-through performance is the film's highlight, and Adams is both charming and annoying. Her work embodies the film's embrasure of contradictions, which is why she fits so well with the rest of the strong ensemble.
I think the film didn't fully get at the root of the family's dysfunction, as Super Reviewer Alice Shen pointed out, but I also think the film was caught betwixt and between on whether or not to judge these characters.
Overall, Junebug is a fantastic addition to film's attempt to capture the South.
An art gallery owner who specializes in outsider art named Madeleine gets into a whirlwind marriage with a guy named George who has successfully managed to mask his North Carolina upbringing. While on a trip to North Carolina to woo a promising artist, Madeleine also gets the chance to meet her new in-laws and, needless to say, it's a real fish out of water sort of thing. George's dad is mostly silent and withdrawn, his mom is really skeptical and disapproving, his borther is surly and quick to anger, and the only one who really seems to be welcoming is George's very pregnant sister-in-law Ashley who is overwhelmingly excitable, talkative, enthusiastic, and naive. She also might seriously need some Ritalin, too.
The set up is basically a quirky version of Meet The Parents, and, for the most part, I did enjoy it. However, the film is really prone to thigns that bug me about indies: jarring transitions with lots of silence and a camera that lingers on too long, character changes that come jsut for the sake of story that seem a little too forced, and that feeling of not so subtle "look at me, I'm not a mainstream film!" that comes up A LOT. The film does have lots of plot threads that are left untied at the end, but that was something I actually liked.
I wasn't bored to tears, but I was kinda bored because I could see where this was going, and was pretty accurate in my guessings. Sometimes that's okay, but with this film it just rubbed me the wrong way a little too much. The performances are at least really good, especially from Amy Adams who really steals the show as Ashley. I felt that Nivola was miscast as George, and it also bugged me that his character was not really there to do a whole lot, and he really didn't weigh in as much with his wife's situation as he should have, but at least it wasn't handled worse than it is.
All in all, this is okay, but not as special as it thinks it is. A lot of this is forced, pretentious, and didn't grab me like it should have. Like I said though, the performances are what ultyimately holds it together.
On the trail of an eccentric artist in North Carolina, a recently wed Chicago gallery owner (Embeth Davidtz) gets to meet her new family. But while her pregnant sister-in-law (Amy Adams) gushes with enthusiasm, the rest of the household afford a more muted and reserved welcome.
This is a film that could easily have fallen prey to cliche but skillfully manages to avoid it and crafts a wonderfully nuanced character study and earnest portrait of family pressures. The level of uncomfortable communication between this dysfunctional family is astutely captured and subtly delivered with an array of different personalities on screen and a perfect ensemble of actors bringing them to life. Amy Adams is a particular standout, radiating positivity as the loquacious, heavily pregnant in-law and the only one who seems to have any joy in life. You can almost feel the discomfort and awkwardness from the characters and the situations but despite this, we are still shown glimpses of the bond between them in their fragile, yet solid family unit.
A wise and emotionally powerful treat that's not short on humour or pathos, making it a near flawless piece of craftsmanship by all involved and a reminder that American cinema doesn't always need to be bang for your buck.
A dealer in outsider art threatens the equilibrium of her middle-class in-laws in North Carolina. Madeline is a go-getting art gallery owner from Chicago, recently married to George, a near-perfect Southern beau. When Madeline needs to close a deal with a reclusive North Carolina artist, George introduces her to his family: prickly mother Peg, taciturn father Eugene, cranky brother Johnny, and Johnny's pregnant, childlike wife Ashley, who is awe-struck by her glamorous sister-in-law. Madeline's presence exposes the fragile family dynamics as hidden resentments and anxieties surface.
Dad is so shell-shocked that he walks around in a stupor. He still has a lot of love in his heart, but it's barely visible under the layers of disappointment. Mom, played very well by the always-underrated Celia Weston, is a walking scorpion, eager to sting everyone with whom she comes into contact. She takes an instant dislike to her new daughter-in-law.
Then there's little Johnny, a twentysomething loser who is about to become a father. Johnny has an inexplicable hatred for his big-city brother. In one almost-preposterous scene, Johnny throws a wrench at his brother, hitting him in the head, in a completely unprovoked attack. Johnny's wife is played by Amy Adams, who rocketed to fame almost immediately after the film was released and received a supporting-actress Oscar nomination. Adams does do an exceptional job here. It's very hard for actors to play characters who have less education than they do, so Adams' achievement is all the more noteworthy.
The downside of the film is that it often feels like a TV dramedy along the lines of "Brothers and Sisters." Sometimes it's impossibly cloying and obvious. But at other times director Phil Morrison, who is still a relative newcomer to film, stylizes his scenes with uncommon artistry. I was especially taken with his skills as an ethnographer, introducing his audience to the unique rhythms, textures, and sights of small-town Carolina life. Frequently he pauses the action and turns his camera to the town where the film was shot and beautifully drinks in the sights.
But by the same token, these moves were a little distancing. At almost every moment Morrison seemed hyper-aware of himself as a refugee from towns such as this. Rather than identifying with his small-town characters, he seems to consider them odd specimens. I sensed a big-city arrogance to a number of his shots, which made my skin crawl. Has he really never met an uneducated person as interesting, smart, and unique as he? How sad -- and pathetic. He's got to get out of the city more often and drop his arrogant guard so he can actually encounter people. That's called being a true artist.
But then again, at least Mr. Morrison is trying to venture out of big cities. Most artists never get even that far. He has a long way to go, but he might turn out to be one of the most exciting and unique directors of the early 21st century.