I was a little wary of this film going in. Any film that basically sends a Yankee woman down South can easily turn in to something that ridicules Southerners - and not only did this film take place in the South, it came right here to my own Tar Heel backyard. Starting things off with some footage of the state's annual hollerin' contest seemed a bad omen, but - much to my delight (and relief) - I found nothing to really complain about here. Sure, there are some stereotypes in the mix - but these are only on the surface (with the exception of the painter character) and Junebug goes far beyond skin deep. It's an unusual film, to say the least. Refreshingly different, this film brings together a wonderful myriad of public and private, deeply personal moments, allowing the actors to truly become their characters rather than having their characters imposed upon them. Some folks won't enjoy this film at all, I'm sure, finding the silent moments others of us find uncommonly compelling to be - well - boring. This isn't an action film or a comedy or even a drama in the common sense - although there are certainly a number of funny and dramatic moments encompassed in the story. Those who truly appreciate the art of moviemaking, I believe, will find Junebug an uplifting experience. It's worth seeing just for Amy Adams' performance alone - she's utterly fantastic.
Newlyweds George (Alessandro Nivola) and Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz) apparently had a small, private wedding because she has never met his family. When they find themselves traveling to North Carolina in order for Madeleine, an art gallery owner in Chicago, to court a promising folk artist, they naturally swing by to meet the folks. It's quite a family. There's Dad (Scott Wilson), the strong, silent type who spends most of his time in the basement, woodworking and looking for his screwdriver; Mom (Celia Weston), the enigmatic, direct, suspicious mother; Johnny (Benjamin McKenzie), George's moody, taciturn, stand-offish brother; and Johnny's wife Ashley (Amy Adams), who literally lights up the screen with her over-excitable, spontaneous personality (she's also the only major actor in the film to speak anything like a native North Carolinian). Ashley's the type who would drive many a person completely up the wall with her inability to ever stop talking and her immense wonder at everything in the world, but I quite fell in love with her from the very start. It's pretty obvious that part of her behavior is a front for some sadness, even desperation, in her life, and it's not hard to find the source - the uncommunicative Johnny, who seems to want nothing to do with anybody - especially George. Speaking of George, he sort of just disappears early on, leaving his fish-out-of-water wife to tackle all of his relatives on her own.
With no major happenings other than the impending arrival of Ashley's baby and Madeleine's frantic efforts to land the soon-to-be famous folk artist David Wark (Frank Hoyt Taylor), much of the focus is on the interrelationships of the family members, the issues and common bonds that make them a family. Some of the issues boil up to the surface largely because of Madeleine's presence. A look oftentimes says more than an extended scene of dialogue, and we do see some way into the souls of most of these individuals. There's no real sense of cloture at the end, but I suppose that is only natural since there is no real ending to family life itself. Things are always changing, for better or for worst. I certainly wonder what the future holds for these people - those I liked, anyway.
I have not seen The Constant Gardener, but that isn't going to stop me from saying that Amy Adams deserved the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress over Rachel Weisz (and, seemingly, every film body other than the Academy agreed with me). Ashley is as captivating a character as I've come across in a long time, and Adams' performance runs the whole gamut from childlike glee to heart-breaking tragedy.
I would note that Junebug does not really capture the Tar Heel or Southern spirit - although pieces of it are there. I also can't imagine that David Wark's artwork would go over big in the South at all - anyone who draws the thing he draws on Robert E. Lee (and every other character in his War Between the States-themed work) won't be met by many open arms down here.
I only have one minor complaint about this film, and it concerns the director's sense of direction. It was interesting when he sidestepped away from a conversation to show us empty rooms with the muffled conversation continuing in the background, and some of his isolated shots of different little scenes were all well and good, but I think he just took it a bit too far at one point, making it look a little too much like he was just trying to be artsy-fartsy about the whole thing. That's truly a miniscule issue, however - certainly not enough to keep me from giving this refreshingly real film five stars.