Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I do not remember seeing advertisements for Junebug, and I am not sure I would have watched it when it was released in 2005 based on the synopsis of this film. However, putting my faith in the sage advice of Netflex, I decided to add this film to my queue. I have been happy finding treasures on NetFlix that I had previously overlooked. Junebug presents an interesting story that, in many ways, reminded me of my own life. The characters were scary-close to my own experiences. I guess that is why Junebug connected with me…it felt close to home.

Junebug introduces us to Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), a Chicago art dealer and her husband George Johnsten (Alessandro Nivola). We see a rapidly brief romance before catching up with the couple six months later as newly-weds. George is in North Carolina checking out a local artist (David Wark, played by Frank Hoyt Taylor) from Pinnacle, NC, who appears to have some serious psychological issues. But George likes the art enough to advise Madeleine to come down and check out the art for herself. Madeleine likes Warks “Antietam,” relating that she recognizes the corn fields and likes the dog heads and scrotums. The art has a very vulgar quality, but obviously qualities that Madeleine thinks will sell.

Madeleine and George have only been together for six months. Madeleine has not yet met George’s family. Pinnacle is merely a half hour from George’s hometown, so the two decide the time has arrived to meet the family. The family dynamics mirror the dynamics of most normal, slightly dysfunctional (and likely average) families in America. Some qualities were exaggerated for effect, but the emotional aspects of individual relationships between family members make the film interesting and relevant. Madeleine is showered with adulation from George’s sister-in-law, Ashley (Amy Adams). Ashley has a bubbly ubiquitous energy that seems both childish and adorable. Ashley is excited by Madeleine’s arrival. The same cannot be said for George’s mother Peg (Celia Weston) who Madeleine mistakenly calls “Pat” during their first encounter. Peg may be a protective mother who won’t find any woman satisfactory for her son…or she may just be a strong personality who rules her roost. Speaking of roosts, Scott Wilson plays Peg’s hen-pecked husband Eugene. Eugene is a quiet, quirky fellow who appears to avoid conflict. George’s brother Johnny is a brooding and explosive under-achiever who seems troubled at George’s arrival. He is also reluctant to accept Ashley’s pregnancy.

Junebug follows the family through the mundane motions of breakfast, painting fingernails, a baby shower, church dinner and more. While plotting a seemingly routine course for the visit, we observe Madeleine and George both learning things about each other that they didn’t know. In a sense, it is an opportunity for them to grow as husband and wife. We also begin to learn details about the other characters, some of which play into the climax of the film. Subtle cues are provided that foreshadow the ending without giving away too much. Even with a suspicion of where the plot was heading, it was enjoyable to pick up the nuance without having the message spelled out in block letters like much of the mindless drivel out there. The dialogue (especially Ashley’s) is exceptional. The family interaction, as well as thematic material, is expertly woven into the dialogue for viewers to consume. Although sluggish at times, the story was well thought out with an obvious avoidance of cliché.

There were many hidden undercurrents worked into this script. I am not sure I caught them all, and may have to make this one of those rare films that I watch a second time. There were some themes that seemed more obvious than others, and I haven’t fully analyzed how all of it applies to the story. But one element that I found intriguing was the juxtaposition of the relationship between the two brothers and their spouses. They both appear to be with the right spouse. Yet George and Ashley seem to connect with each other in a spiritual way, while Johnny and Madeleine appear to experience some sexual energy. The exchanges between the four create some depth.

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