When British-born Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), a dealer in regional, "outsider" art, travels from Chicago to North Carolina to pursue a local painter for her gallery, she and her new, younger husband, George Johnsten (Alessandro Nivola), extend the trip to include an introduction to his family: his prickly mother Peg (Celia Weston), his taciturn father Eugene (Scott Wilson), his angry younger brother Johnny (Benjamin McKenzie), who has always suffered in the shadow of his brother and Johnny's pregnant, innocently outgoing wife, Ashley (Amy Adams). With George falling into his old routine of spending time alone, Madeleine relies almost entirely on Ashley to help her navigate the family dinners, Church meetings and Ashley's baby shower, while trying to close the deal on the artist. Tensions mount when Ashley goes into labor and everyone's priorities, Madeleine's included, are confronted.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
An arthouse Meet The Parents, Junebug explores the same territory with greater subtlety and complexity - and more chuckles and quiet smiles, instead of big comedy routines. After George and Madeleine's whirlwind romance and offscreen wedding, we're introduced to the diverse members of his family when the newly married couple descend on the provincial family home, on the eve of a birth. The good natured but naïve Ashley (Amy Adams) and Geroge's sulking younger brother Johnny (Benjamin McKenzie) are living at the Johnsten home, Ashley ready to drop.
The discordant family, with a near-silent father, a barely polite but resentful mother and an antagonistic Johnny, contrast with Madeleine's cheerful and sincere attempt to like and be liked in return. The dialogue and the body language combine to reveal the swirling emotional eddies that fill the family's inner life, and the mood of comic tension is often spiked with sharp insight. Like Ashley's remark to her hopeless husband after one of his little screw-ups: "God loves you just the way you are but he loves you too much to let you stay that way." Or mother Johnsten (Celia Weston, terrific) wary of Madeleine: "She's too smart and too pretty ... a deadly combination."
Amy Adams, reminiscent of Elizabeth Montgomery in the Bewitched TV series, gives an award winning performance as Ashley, a sweet and naïve young woman whose frilly, god-fearing exterior hides a remarkably solid inner core. Embeth Davidtz, her natural warmth shining through, lets her face work through the thoughts and emotions that assail her, and Benjamin McKenzie is terrific as the resentful little shit whose insecurities boil over.
The other terrific, crazy and entertaining characterisation is Frank Hoyt Taylor's 'outsider' artist, David Wark, his wide Southern accent and primitive, genitalia infested paintings matching his wild visions; he's a collaborator ... with Gawd! "My jowb is to make ihnvisible .... vhisible." Whether intentional or not, the film's sharpest satirical punch comes from his ... er... paintings. These crude, childish, gawdawful works are the subject of Madelaine's feverish attempts to sign him up for representation, with the promise of showings in New York and elsewhere, to make him lots of money. To me, that looks like a swipe at some wanky modern art and its pretentious followers.
The film's dramatic turn in the final act provides ballast, an entertaining drama filled with the human comedy - and no manufactured, schmaltzy ending.
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CAST: Embeth Davidtz, Alessandro Nivola, Alicia Van Couvering, Ben McKenzie, Scott Wilson, Celia Weston, Amy Adams, David Kuhn, Frank Hoyt Taylor
PRODUCER: Mindy Goldberg, Mike S. Ryan
DIRECTOR: Phil Morrison
SCRIPT: Angus MacLachlan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Peter Donahue
EDITOR: Joe Klotz
MUSIC: Yo La Tengo
PRODUCTION DESIGN: David Doernberg
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Arkles Ent
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 29, 2006
RIVERSIDE SNEAK PEEK PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 4 consecutive Tuesdays - March 10, 17, 24, 31, 2015 - at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.