Winding "Junebug" softly lights on love
Seattle Times movie critic
An elegant little character study set in a small North Carolina town, "Junebug" introduces us to a family that immediately seems as real as the painfully tidy rooms in their modest rambler. George (Alessandro Nivola), the family's golden-boy oldest son, has brought his new wife Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz) home to meet his mother Peg (Celia Weston), father Eugene (Scott Wilson), brother Johnny (Ben McKenzie) and pregnant sister-in-law Ashley (Amy Adams). Madeleine is older, suspiciously foreign with her double-cheek kisses and delicate British accent, and briskly sophisticated, and the family forms factions immediately. Peg and Johnny are suspicious, Eugene is quietly accepting and the ever-chatting Ashley immediately pledges eternal devotion.
Adams, her eyes practically popping out of her head, gives a breathless, endearing performance: her Ashley is a big-hearted innocent who's been waiting patiently for someone worship-worthy, like Madeleine, to come along. She smiles tentatively at Madeleine with all her white teeth peeking out, as if offering a gift that she's not sure will be accepted. And, reflected in her adoration, Madeleine becomes a kinder and better person than she, perhaps, really is.
Phil Morrison, working from a screenplay by Angus MacLachlan, begins the film as a quirky and slightly brittle comedy of manners, and at first we think we know where he's going and sense an ever-so-slight arty condescension to the Southern characters — particularly Peg, with her heavy walk and crooked lipstick. Then the film turns a corner, during a lovely scene at a church supper where George croons a hymn with the chorus "ye who are weary, come home." He sings it with familiarity and winsome sweetness, and the moment grabs the film and slows it down.
Turns out we didn't quite have George figured out — and neither did Madeleine, who gazes at him during the song as if she can't quite recognize him but likes what she's seeing. And prickly, difficult Peg suddenly makes sense in a moment beautifully played by Weston. Madeleine, asked about her hobbies, laughs that she can't do anything with her hands. "George knew that when he married you?" asks Peg, looking surprised and betrayed; her precious son has deliberately chosen a woman completely unlike his mother.
"Junebug" plays, effectively, with themes of condescension toward outsiders — the reason George and Madeleine, who live in Chicago, are here in the first place is so Madeleine can convince an autistic folk artist ("outsider art" is his genre, in galleryspeak) to sign with her. But with Ashley as its heart and George as its soul, the film's ultimate message is something far warmer and more complex: It's a story about love, in its infinite variety, and of optimism.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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