‘Junebug’ takes fresh look at familiar subjects
September 8, 2005
Ashley is days away from delivering her first child. But she has an even more exciting visitor on the way: Ashley (Amy Adams), young, naive and completely unaware of life outside rural Pfafftown, N.C., is about to be in the presence of … her sister-in-law, Madeleine.Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz) is, to Ashley, the epitome of the cosmopolitan woman she has probably seen only on the small screen. Madeleine lives in Chicago, owns a gallery dealing in outsider art, speaks with a British accent – and, perhaps most exotic, doesn’t dream of the day she herself becomes a mother.”Oh, I bet she’s thin. I bet she’s prettier than me. I’m going to hate her. … I can’t wait!” squeals Ashley.
This is the initial setup of “Junebug,” an indie-film delight directed by Phil Morrison from a screenplay by Angus MacLachlan, North Carolinians both. To woo a prospective artist (David Wark), an extreme outsider whose paintings mix the Civil War, hardcore religion and graphic, bizarre sex, Madeleine has come to the North Carolina hills, which her husband George (Alessandra Nivola), calls home.Madeleine steps into the classic clash of cultures story. George’s family is the embodiment of the Southern stereotype, leading an existence of cigarettes, football fanaticism, church and – in the person of George’s brother Johnny (Benjamin McKenzie) – male, redneck anger at the world.Raising this above tired clichés, at least at the beginning, is Ashley. Adams is having so much fun balancing Ashley’s diehard optimism, her enthusiasm over her brush with the bigger world, and her backwoods inexperience, it’s hard not to enjoy. She fawns over Madeleine like a puppy with a schoolgirl crush. Ashley is made even more lovable by the way she adores her reticent, eternally pissed-off husband, Johnny. “God loves you just the way you are,” she tells him. “But he loves you too much to let you stay that way.”
The collision of worlds carries on as Madeleine quarrels with her mother-in-law (Celia Watson), hears George sing the gospel in the local church and attempts to help Johnny write a paper on “Huckleberry Finn.”Proceeding out of this predictable cultural clash, “Junebug” has a number of paths it could follow. There’s the outsider artist, who is leaning toward signing with a New York gallery, rather than with Madeleine. There is Ashley’s baby, and all that might bring up. And there are plenty of subplots in the extended family itself: Johnny and George’s long-simmering animosity, Ashley’s infatuation with Madeleine and Johnny and Ashley’s tempestuous marriage.”Junebug” tackles most of these issues, and in a way that breaks from its earlier predictability. As most every character has some sort of breakdown, they reveal layers of character and wisdom that flesh out the stereotypes. Instead of examining the clashes of exterior culture, the film begins to explore individual interiors, regarding matters of family, dedication, integrity and values. “Junebug” thus escalates from an enjoyable but familiar satire on the South to a multilayered, ambiguous look at choices and character.
“Junebug” shows at the Wheeler Opera House Friday through Sunday, Sept. 9-11, at 7:30 p.m.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org