Dir: Phil Morrison. 2005.US. 102mins.
Actress Amy Adams pullsoff a small miracle in Junebug, an ensemble comedy-drama about whathappens when a golden boy-turned-prodigal son brings his cosmopolitan bridehome to meet his working class North Carolina family.
Adams (The Wedding Date)takes centre stage as Ashley, a sweet, naive Deep South chatterbox whoinstantly idolises her new sister-in-law. It's a role that easily could haveslipped into parody or been played for laughs, but Adams gives the character adeep and unexpected humanity for which she picked up a well-deserved BestActress Prize in the American Dramatic Competition at Sundance.
Prospects for this SonyPictures Classics release should be good in the US, with enough pluses besidesAdams, such as a great performance in support from Embeth Davidtz, from whichto draw mileage. Potential overseas may be relatively softer given the strongregional feel to the picture.
George (Nivola) is thecountry boy who left home for the big city and never looked back. Embarrassedby his provincial upbringing and uneducated family, he now lives in Chicagowith his beautiful, cultured bride Madeleine (Davidtz), who has never met hisfamily. An art dealer who specialises in so-called 'outsider art,'Madeleine has business in North Carolina and suggests they visit George'sfamily.
Madeleine could not be moreof an outsider in the new surroundings and her well-intentioned attempts to fitin are both resented and misconstrued by her in-laws, who can't acknowledgethat they have long felt betrayed and abandoned by George. Rather than dealingwith the ensuing culture clash, George just buries his head in the sand,leaving Madeleine to fend for herself.
A film based on culturaldifferences and family tensions, Junebug refuses to take sides, withenough patronising attitudes among the characters to satisfy every prejudice.Rather then denying and smothering these stereotypes, screenwriter MacLachlanand director Morrison choose to confirm them while also hinting that these viewpointsdo not paint the whole picture.
The film-makers' intentisn't always easy to decipher, given how they try to reflect both deepaffection and mortification for the people and mores of the region. But Junebugstill hits uncomfortably close to home - George's brother (McKenzie) has alwayslanguished in his older sibling's shadow; George's mother (Weston) distrustsMadeline for being too smart and too pretty -creating that sense of unease thatanyone who has ever felt self-conscious about who they are or where they havecome from will be able to identify with.
The story's saving grace isAshley. Her enthusiasm and garrulous nature are like a force of nature, sooverwhelming they nearly knock the audience out of their collective seat. Whenintroduced, her annoying, non-stop banter may irritate some. But Adams showsthe kind heart, simple faith and irrepressible spirit that make Ashley the mostdecent and humane of all the characters.
Tech credits are finealthough, in trying to suggest the slow pace and unhurried rhythms of Southernlife, Morrison lingers too long on certain shots. The tranquil beauty andpeacefulness of the setting is enough to get the idea across without resortingto still-lifes of the neighbourhood.
Prod co: Epoch Films
US dist: Sony Pictures Classics
Int'l sales: Renaissance Films
Exec prods: Mark P Clein, Ethan DLeder, Daniel Rappaport, Dany
Prod: Mindy Goldberg, Mike S Ryan
Scr: Angus MacLachan
Cine: Peter Donahue
Pro des: David Doernberg
Ed: Joe Klotz
Music: Yo La Tengo
Main cast: Embeth Davidtz,Allesandro Nivola, Amy Adams, Ben McKenzie, Frank Hoyt Taylor, Scott Wilson,Celia Weston