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JUNEBUG (2005 R)
When an art dealer quickly meets and marries her "Mr. Right" mystery man, she heads to North Carolina a few months later to stop by and say "hi" to her new in-laws in hopes that she can try and snag a local artist for her business along the way. But once in the South, the refines 'city girl' learns a thing or two about family ties and country livin'.
The cast includes: Embeth Davidtz, Amy Adams, Benjamin McKenzie, and Alessandro Nivola.
Directed by: Phil Morrison. Written by: Angus MacLachlan.
Genre: Comedy, Drama.
Rated: R for sexual content and language.
Tagline: They may not be perfect, but they're family...
Yet another big night for the private art gallery owner Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz) and her many 'no-name' featured artists sets the stage for this quirky film that runs on the restrained energy of anti-climactic suspense and lingering intrapersonal tensions. While Madeleine hesitantly paces the floor of her gallery awaiting the fate of her clienteles’ collections during the eve of an important art auction, she espies a strikingly handsome young man eyeing a precarious painting off to the side of all the social hoopla. Approaching him with cautious affability, Madeleine'soon finds herself smitten, very smitten with what will become her 'husband-to-be' George (Allesandro Nivola); the picture-perfect resemblance of a Southern gentleman.
A quirky depiction of the cat and mouse courting games introduces audiences to its feature film, "Junebug", and then quickly pans to the quiet, albeit picturesque scenery of the South; specifically North Carolina, where Madeleine and her new husband George are happily driving down remote interstates en route to a prospective client and ultimately, Madeline's new in-laws. Stopping-in on a no-name though rumored artist, David Wark, Madeleine begins to take a keen interest in his Civil War art; all in the name of helping promote his work and her gallery. But the cautious Wark leaves Madeleine wanting more and she leaves his quaint Southern home prepared to snag his alliances before her return to Chicago.
Meanwhile Madeline has to divert her attention to more personal affairs: meeting her new secondary family. One by one the less than hospitable in-laws introduce themselves; or rather, Madeleine approaches each with genteel warmth and affection. But the skeptical mother-in-law, Peg (Celia Watson), her taciturn husband, Eugene (Scott Wilson), and George's brashly indifferent younger brother, Johnny (Benjamin McKenzie), turn out to be less than cordially inclined towards the precarious Madeline. But Johnny's pregnant wife, Ashley (Amy Adams), and her bubbly exuberance and sincere curiosity with the 'exotic' Madeline more than makes up for the quiet introduction of George's family; in deed almost too much so.
While the disarmed Madeline prepares to digest the tense family dynamics of George's middle-class, conservative, Southern, Christian family, all the while being invaded by the non-stop inquiries of small-town Ashley, George runs off to escape the volatility of the unpredictable situation. With Peg constantly eyeing Madeleine's too lithe, too citified, too modern composition, Johnny constantly barking demands or disdains at everything in sight, and Eugene hiding for shelter in the sanctity of his garage and his wood-working, Madeleine does her best to keep a stiff upper lip and befriend the tireless Ashley. Meanwhile George seems to find every excuse possible to avoid family interaction.
As the progressively suspenseful family dynamics evolve Madeleine is furthermore trying to cope with less than encouraging phone calls from her gallery back in Chicago; seems her snagging Wark was going to take more work than a few vainglorious praises over his interesting paintings. While Madeline prepares to head back out to Wark’s house, her new best friend, Ashley 'decides' to inconveniently go into labor. More excited than the lot of them, and more chipper and energetic than the rest as well, the bubbly Ashley takes the back seat and heads to the hospital with Peg, Eugene, and Johnny; prepared to salvage her doomed marriage by bringing a baby into the world.
A protective Peg brushes off Madeleine's inquiries to venture with and instead, leaves Madeleine alone at the house. But soon enough Madeleine has to head out to Wark's house to convince him to sign a contract to show his work at her Chicago gallery. While at Warks she receives a call from her incessantly missing husband who's suddenly all concerned and 'go-family'. Apparently arriving at the hospital, last mind you, George discovered that Ashley's pregnancy encountered more than a few minor complications. With his brother still not having spoken a word to him since his arrival back home, George decides to stay and watch over his distraught wife while Johnny storms off home with his parents. There at the hospital George calls and gives Madeleine a diatribe on family loyalty and wracks her conscience guilty with prospects of having screwed up her professional and personal responsibilities. After consoling the heartbroken Ashley one more time, an aggravated George heads home only to encounter an angry brother with a flying monkey wrench, and a stunned wife who stands idly by awaiting his next cue.
Meanwhile emotional mayhem is ensuing as each woman; Peg, Madeleine, and Ashley deal with their personal crises while the boys notoriously run for cover. After one final showdown with his brother George prepares to head home, leaving Madeleine without the opportunity of apologizing to or wishing Ashley farewell. With much family banter, taboos, and mayhem exposed and endured, the newlywed couple heads back to Chicago in silence; digesting all that they have learned about each other and themselves from the first, of what promises to be many, hard lessons on the road of marriage.
"Junebug" is a quirky, charming, charismatic, and poignant comedy that is chalk-full of personality, professional and personal crises and conflicts. Set against the simple backdrop of a newlywed couple's first road trip to visit the in-laws, an entire journey of discovery awaits man and woman alike as they realize for the first time that love isn't all 'giggles and kisses' and that too often, there are more than just bumps, but large potholes and roadblocks on the road of life, and more importantly, marriage.
The film perfectly captures the complicated dynamics of family: volatile, less than perfect, gritty, and more than often, angst-filled. In "Junebug" you see a man escaping his past by marrying a woman that comes to represent everything his family isn't. But what happens when you take this exotic being and throw her into the mix of all you've run from for the past several years and suddenly you have fireworks in the form of subtle, unspoken disapproving glances, gestures, and guffaws as the inherently threatened family does their best not to be overtly offended by this dangerously different woman now a permanent part of their family unit.
Capturing the dynamics of protective mother, tired father, jealous younger brother, small-town girl yearning to break free, small town boy running from his past, and an independent woman determined to make it on her own, "Junebug" perfectly casts its characters with actors who immerse themselves and come to life in the roles of Peg, Eugene, Johnny, Ashley, George, and Madeleine, respectively. Amy Adams is absolutely endearing and edifying as she sparkles in her portrayal of a small-town girl curious about the rest of that big ol’ world out there. Overly bubbly, overly curious, overly naïve, Amy Adam's, as Ashley, relishes and renders remarkable her portrayal of the ultimate innocent character-type. Ben McKenzie plays the emotionally tortured younger brother struggling to get out from under the heavy shadow of his successful, albeit resentful, older brother. Celia Watson is delightful in that she plays her role so well you don't whether to slap her or hug her for all her emotional anxiety and over-protective tendencies. In Watson we see the rough edges of a Southern woman who completely abandons her Southern ways, such as hospitality, for the protection of her family; she is both warrior and wilted flower; hypocrite, and sincere mother. Of course Embeth Davidtz plays the genteel socialite perfectly; never abrasive, never judgmental, she comes to ironically represent all that the South stands for; which George's family obviously does not, though some might argue, for good reason...
As far as direction goes... it's brilliantly uncanny. Juxtaposed with vivid art direction and a quirky cinematography and music and you have a picturesque film that sparkles in its simplicity. As the film unfolds you feel as if the metaphor of art expands beyond the framework of Madeleine's job as the film itself acts like a blank canvas that develops in hue and tone and timbre during the unfolding of the plot. Each scene brings a new richness to the 'canvas' of "Junebug"; each new character brings a complexity to the vision. In and of itself, "Junebug" is at once reminiscent of a simple student film, a picturesque homage to Southern culture, and a vivid portrayal of postmodern art; "Junebug" seems consciously aware of art being constantly created for the purpose of art at all times. The film simply lingers and lets the audience develop their own opinions; each of us has an imaginary paintbrush that fills in strokes where we see fit based on how we interpret the film and its many non-vocal symbols, suggestions, and subtleties.
"Junebug" is simply delightful and there's a good reason it has met with much success at award ceremonies such as Sundance. Thus far "Junebug" graces 6 awards, including the Special Jury Prize Award for Dramatic Performance (Amy Adams) at the Sundance Film Festival. "Junebug" has also garnered another 5 nominations.
Embeth Davidtz plays Madeleine, owner of a private art gallery and George's new wife.
Amy Adams plays Ashley, Johnny's eccentric and pregnant wife.
Benjamin McKenzie plays Johnny, George's disgruntled little brother.
Alessandro Nivola plays George, Madeleine's new husband.
Celia Watson plays Peg, George's cynically skeptical mother.
Scott Wilson plays Eugene, George's quiet but supportive father.
Frank Hoyt Taylor plays David Wark, an eccentric Civil War artist.