- Embeth Davidtz as Madeleine Johnsten
- Alessandro Nivola as George Johnsten
- Amy Adams as Ashley Johnsten
- Benjamin McKenzie as Johnny Johnsten
- Celia Weston as Peg Johnsten
- Scott Wilson as Eugene Johnsten
A perceptive yet slightly offbeat drama on family values, attitudes and mores concerning an outsider coming into the fold, Junebug is a thoroughly delightful and revealing snapshot with superb acting and characters.
Madeleine is a cultured and willowy art dealer in Chicago who in the beginning of the film falls for handsome George Johnsten. After a whirlwind romance, the two are hitched. The main crux of Junebug concerns the two visiting George’s hometown in North Carolina. She decides to combine potentially getting a strange local artist whose work hasn’t gained exposure as someone for her gallery with meeting her in-laws belatedly as it has been six months since she married him. The welcome she receives is somewhat muted from most of the family. George’s mother Peg is an unsmiling matriarch with everything in order, his father Eugene is an eccentric man largely confined to doing woodwork in the basement and his brother Johnny is a sulky and resentful young man, who hardly talks to anyone and is not especially pleased to see his older brother. Madeleine discovers something of an ally in Johnny’s wife Ashley, who is heavily pregnant and seemingly the only person happy to see her. Ashley is a wide-eyes girl who sees Madeleine as something special and is more than a little naive, although she does realise the difficulties in her own marriage with her almost silent husband and hopes that by having a baby things may turn around. Trying to ingratiate herself into the eccentric family while at the same time getting the artist she wants for her gallery, Madeleine is in for a number of surprises as she discovers how different she is from her in-laws and how she might not really know her husband as well as she thinks.
Phil Morrison is excellent in his direction of this film, which is observed with a sense of naturalism, best embodied by the characters that populate the film’s landscape. They are drawn with realistic strokes that make them very human, with all the idiosyncrasies that make up different people. The winning script offers nuanced humour, simplicity and the little dramas of life invested with humanity and unshowy dialogue, which contributes greatly to the overall subtle yet compelling story. Scenes drift into each other with an ease and grace, there is no need for overly arty embellishments here as Junebug dances to its own tune. The pace of the piece is one of measured awareness that is still engaging, though there will be some who find it too slow. I for one liked the leisurely pace that was used in Junebug as it encapsulated how the film was a slice of life drama. Life can be unpredictable at times and things can come out of nowhere; which is exactly what all the elements on show manage to get across. Some parts lapse into labored dullness, but the rest of the film is so acutely observed in its depiction of the strangeness of family ways and chalk and cheese attitudes, that you can excuse the odd misfiring part. The best parts of Junebug arise from Madeleine’s attempts to level with her in-laws and their ways. There is something very honest about the way Junebug examines how sometimes don’t realise that due to a difference in background they come off as a certain way to others not accustomed to that. Environments and upbringing are brought out in quiet yet compelling degrees as Junebug nicely opens up these angles by having the outsider that is Madeleine infiltrates the small town ranks of the family and not really knowing how to converse with them. The music in Junebug is sparse yet used when necessary, ensuring a somewhat eclectic backdrop to the film that often uses contemplative silence in large chunks.
A finely tuned performance from Embeth Davidtz makes her character someone relatable, even when her actions unintentionally lead to her coming off as snooty. The part of Madeleine is one of sophistication and manners which Davidtz marvellously covers, but her biggest achievement is anchoring the part with an underlying vulnerability and inability to see that she comes off as brittle and haughty to her in-laws. In the most ambiguous part is Alessandro Nivola as the returning golden boy. Nivola plays his part in such a way that we discover things about him as the film progresses, much in the same way as Madeleine does. The mystery yet understated delivery ensures that the character becomes interesting rather than superfluous. Amy Adams is the biggest standout of this movie playing the garrulous and saucer-eyed Ashley. Adams encompasses optimism and sunny personality, and in latter stages when the film calls for it, deep and moving sadness. Ashley as a character could have easily become an annoying caricature, but in the skilled hands of Adams, she blossoms into a character that is a lot smarter than many think and someone whose brimming enthusiasm is hard to resist. A truly lovely and expressive performance from Amy Adams enlivens events in Junebug. There is also Benjamin McKenzie, with his monosyllabic but ever so sympathetic delivery of the jealous and angry brother, who can’t quite stomach the success of his returning sibling and is more than a little distant with everyone around him as a result of this feeling of inadequacy. Celia Weston and Scott Wilson fill out the roles of George’s parents( a waspish mother and a quiet dad) with the right amount of small town values and eccentricities as they are perplexed and unsure of their son’s bride who more than stands out among them.
A warm yet bittersweet story of family, culture clash and misunderstanding, Junebug quietly tells its tale with an eccentric and low-key charm and excellent cast, especially a winning Amy Adams.