Sunday, 19 November 2006

Junebug (2005)

This review was originally posted on Ian's Personal Blog on 21st August 2006.

JunebugJunebug received strong critical reviews, and an oscar nomination for supporting actress Amy Adams earlier this year, but my heart initially sank at the 'indie' opening to the movie - poor Super 8 footage of some North Carolina locals making odd whooping noises, amateur big red blocky titles, and a tinny, weak mono soundtrack didn't make for an auspicious start.

Fortunately things quickly improved after the opening title sequence.

Embeth Davidtz plays Madelaine a British art dealer who gets smitten with handsome, clean-cut customer George (Alessandro Nivola) and after a whirlwind marriage takes the opportunity to mix business with pleasure by visiting his dysfunctional family in Northern Carolina some six months after their marriage.

I say 'dysfunctional', but the beauty of the piece is that each family member has some redeeming feature that most will be able to identify with. Although there's a lot of humour in the piece, it's always done so that one is laughing WITH the characters, rather than at them. There's the prickly mother Peg, her taciturn and rather sad husband Eugene, and George's brother, Johnny who is having a difficult time in his marriage to pregnant Ashley, and strongly resents his brother's return visit.

Amy Adams steals the show, with her performance as Ashley, the rather simplistic girl with the heart of gold, but she's backed up by strong performances all round. Alessandro Nivola shows he has leading man potential, with natural good looks, sexiness and even a good singing voice. Ben McKenzie, best known for his role as the lead in TV Series The O.C. shows critics of his TV performances that he CAN do more than simply roll his eyes and flash his eyelashes when required (although he DOES do rather too much of that here too!) Embeth Davidtz strikes just the right note as unintentionally patronising Madelaine, and Celia Weston excels as the matriarch of the family. With such a strong cast, and a strong script, it would be hard for director Phil Morrison to screw things up, even with the extremely limited budget he had, and thankfully he doesn't, turning in a heart-warming film that is never schmaltzy, and tells us the old-age story about how once we've left home we can never really go back.

Packaged as a two-disc set, one wonders why the two discs were really necessary, as the extra's are strong evidence of the 'little-to-no-budget indie' production. Unfortunately the director is largely invisible, and his comments on the deleted scenes, often very different variations of the same dialogue scene, could have added so much more to the package. The commentary track is from the two female leads, and suffers from being far too gushing in places. Accidental indiscretions about actors' insecurities are always amusing to hear and help make the track listenable, and for those looking there is genuine insight into how actors really are just very small cogs in the whole process of movie making.

There are six 3-5 minute featurettes, mainly centred around each of the main characters in the movie, and these vary from 'poor home movie footage' on-the-hoof tours to 'promotional talking head sound bites with repeated clips'. The standout extra is a 20 minute interview with Amy Adams at a screening in London, which gives insight into the acting process, which is further enhanced by two seemingly unedited audition performances from Adams and Ben McKenzie.

Junebug is a quirky film, but one that should appeal to most mainstream audiences and the strong cast make this a 'must see'. Highly recommended!

Junebug screencap

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