7 September 2005 | samseescinema
There's a magic to Junebug that's nearly impossible to describe
Junebug Reviewed by Sam Osborn of www.samseescinema.com
Rating: 3.5 out of 4
There's a magic to Junebug that's nearly impossible to describe with words. To explain it literally would be to describe a slow, mundane, and worthless story. But, of course, there's much more to Junebug than a story that's slow, mundane and worthless. Iconic independent director Phil Morrison's film takes a patient and immersive look at small town life. There's a profound harmony at work between the characters that, from my experience with small town family in relatives' homes, seems to be true to reality. All at once each character is happy and unhappy with their situation and with everyone surrounding them. There's pain, but within the pain is deep-rooted happiness and content. And when a foreigner enters the home as new family, we the audience are meant to take the foreigner's perspective.
After meeting George (Alessandro Nivola) at her art gallery's auction, Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz) finds herself married to the man after little over a week. Months later she travels into a rural suburbia of South Carolina to meet with the peculiar and absurdly profound artist David Wark (Frank Hoyt Taylor), and also to meet for the first time her new family. Unfamiliar with the family's southern lifestyle, she enters the house with the open mind unique only to artists. Immediately embraced by the lonely Ashley (Amy Adams), whose relationship to Johnny (Benjamin McKenzie) has yielded a seemingly unhappy pregnancy and lonely marriage, Madeleine is equally repelled by the mother and leader of the household, Peg (Celia Weston). Each couple (the parents, Ashley and Johnny, and Madeleine and George) sleeps in a separate room, divided only by paper thin walls that do little to contain sound, making nights into festivals of eavesdropping. The unborn baby, Junebug, has a room all to herself, seeming to hold all hope that is left for happiness in the family.
In most films where a foreigner enters a deep-rooted household, the story usually loses itself with the dramatic changes the foreigner brings. But Phil Morrison thankfully avoids this cliché and instead lets our foreigner simply observe. There's actually a sequence dedicated entirely to the observation of each room in the home, where we, like the foreigner, are meant to find all the charming nuances of the house's decoration. Meticulous details are fully realized, with the placement of the cigarettes, the oddly shaped and colored lampshades, the material of the couches, and every tiny element of this lifestyle that may be new to all us "city folk." The foreigner actually has as little power over the family as the audience does. Instead of her acting as the catalyst for the family's change, the title character, Junebug, who's kicking and growing within Ashley's stomach holds this power. It's an affective storytelling method that allows us to connect with the foreigner, Madeleine, and consequently, find ourselves immersed further into Junebug's intimate tale.
In a story as quiet and intimate as Junebug, it's imperative that body language plays as much a role as dialogue. The cast must exude emotions past words and extend their skills to inhabit their characters completely. Each actor achieves this rare performance, particularly Amy Adams and Benjamin McKenzie, playing Ashley and Johnny. Their marriage has a unique understanding to it that's difficult for the audience to grasp until the end. But when we realize their situation, the nuances of their performances are blissfully revealed.
Conventional laws of cinema rarely allow small town life to be realistically portrayed. The calm, resonating harmony that resides in the lifestyle doesn't offer much in the way of excitement. I suppose it requires the confidence of an independent distributor and the eye and pen of a wonderful director and screenwriter. Phil Morrison and Angus MacLachlan's collaboration here with Junebug offers up this unique portrait with nothing but extreme and satisfying clarity.
-Sam Osborn of www.samseescinema.com