Film Reviews


By • Aug 5th, 2005 •

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Epoch Films / Running time 107 Minutes / Rated: R

JUNEBUG is one of those films that you really really want to like, and you’re really glad when you do. Not really really glad, but glad enough.

After all, it is one of those character-driven movies we’ve all been yammering that we wanted to see. And not just women. Most thinking adults over the age of 14 (target audience age for marketers) are disgusted with the “state of” movies today: With some exceptions, the mass marketing of product has left a lot of people high and dry intellectually if not aesthetically. No point in naming names—we all have our favorite love-to-hates.

So JUNEBUG, an independent film which broke through at the Sundance Film Festival, and was shot in 16 millimeter by director Phil Morrison, is humorous and touching, both at once. Plus it’s about culture clashes, sibling rivalry, and just-beneath-the-surface family tension. Who can’t relate?

A newly married couple, Madeline (Embeth Davidtz, memorable as the predatory Mary Crawford in MANSFIELD PARK) and George (Alessandro Nivola, coincidentally also in MANSFIELD PARK), travel to North Carolina to visit his family. Madeline is a high achieving sophisticate who runs an art gallery in Chicago; he is the Cracker made good, now returning home with his bride for the first time.

Another reason for the visit is that Madeline is closing a deal with a local artist–a clever tour de force by Frank Hoyt Taylor–but the main thrust of the film is meeting the in-laws. Mom is somewhat irritable, Dad is monosyllabic, and there is a resentful younger brother. This triptych is typically American in a number of other ways as well.

Said second son, played by Ben McKenzie, still lives at home, is underemployed, and about to become a father. While this may sound like the stuff of tv sitcoms (in fact McKenzie does have a part on ‘The O.C.’) as well as reflecting some current sociological verities, JUNEBUG busts out because of its clever script but mainly by its fine acting, particularly that of Amy Adams in the least-expected performance. As the pregnant wife of junior brother, she is appealingly sweet without ever being sappy.
Though she is in awe of her glamorous new sister-in-law, it doesn’t snuff out or get in the way of her affectionate nature. It’s nice to see two women’s roles which are neither portraits of clichéd enemies nor bonded friends: rather the more complicated stuff of women’s friendship and lives as they actually are.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about JUNEBUG is that it’s not really ‘about’ anything. While that might make it a marketer’s nightmare –“Shall we put Family Values? Culture clash? Relationship Film?” you can just see them worrying over the promotional material — it also makes it a moviegoer’s dream.

Cast: Amy Adams, Embeth Davidtz, Alessandro Nivola, Ben McKenzie, Celia Weston, Scott Wilson.

Credits: Written by Angus MacLachlan.
Directed by Phil Morrison.
Edited by Joe Klotz. Photographed by Peter Donahue. Music by Yo La Tengo.

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