Monday 16 December 2019

Movie Review: Junebug (2005)

A quirky drama and comedy, Junebug delves into the gulf between social classes and the untold secrets casting shadows on family dynamics.

Chicago art gallery owner Madeleine Johnsten (Embeth Davidtz) hears about eccentric Civil War artist David Wark living in rural North Carolina. She travels with her husband of six months George (Alessandro Nivola) to try and sign Wark to an exclusive contract.

George is originally from the area, and after visiting Wark the couple head to George's nearby family home, where his parents Peg and Eugene (Celia Weston and Scott Wilson) live with George's brother Johnny (Ben McKenzie) and his pregnant wife Ashley (Amy Adams). The Johnstens are simple rural folks, and Madeleine's sophistication is out of place. Johnny never finished high school, and he is brooding for vague reasons. Ashley is bubbly and excited about her forthcoming baby and tries to befriend Madeleine, who starts to learn she really knows little about her husband.

Appropriately featuring no music soundtrack and strategic pregnant pauses with no dialogue and no sound of any kind, Junebug is most interested in the quietness of what is left unsaid. Director Phil Morrison and writer Angus MacLachlan focus their drama on a base level of tension arising from unresolved conflicts and lingering dissatisfaction within families, including the chasms so deep and wide no bridging efforts need be attempted.

While Ashley puts on a happy face her hubby Johnny is not shy about fully displaying his doldrums. He may blame Ashley for evolving their relationship too quickly and preventing him from finishing high school, but may never quite say it. Johnny also resents his brother's transformation into a city slicker and landing the worldly Madeleine as a wife.

Meanwhile their mother Peg instinctively knows Madeleine does not belong in this family, but is careful about confrontations and instead tries to recruit the generally passive Eugene to do her awkward work.

And finally the family visit exposes the superficial relationship that passes for a marriage between Madeleine and George. She learns more about him in a couple of days than the prior 6 months, and although the sex is great they now both have reasons to doubt their compatibility. When Ashley goes into labour and Madeleine's courtship of the artist Wark is jeopardized, the vulnerabilities of their relationship are exposed with no words exchanged.

In her breakout role Amy Adams sparkles, especially in the film's first half. With Ashley genuinely excited and eager to connect with and learn from the refined Madeleine, Adams allows her character's genuineness to radiate with pure positive energy throughout the otherwise restive household. The rest of the cast members are suitably encased within the prevailing passive aggressiveness.

Cinematic exposés of family dynamics are often quick to resort to exaggerated histrionics and displays of loud emotion. Junebug is a refreshing rejection of theatrics. Morrison stays closer to real interactions, where the gritting of teeth is the norm, tense smiles are plastered on to get through the day, and difficult conversations are best avoided. None of this necessarily leads to satisfactory resolutions, but then life rarely comes with prepackaged tidy outcomes.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome reader comments about this post.