Director Phil Morrison says in the press notes for “Junebug” that wanted his film to “reflect the contemplativeness that sits in the slowness” of Southern life. It does. Whether that’s a good thing or simply a prescription for boredom will be very much in the eye of the beholder with this ultra-low key, sincere portrayal of domestic angst written by Angus MacLachlan.
George (Alessandro Nivola) has been married for six months to Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), a Chicago-based dealer in outsider art. Travelling to North Carolina for business, they stop to introduce Madeliene to George’s family. George is successful and well-educated, his family is lower middle class, and many of the expected stresses develop.
Mom (Celia Weston) is suspicious of George’s slightly older wife. Dad (Scott Wilson) says next to nothing but seems contented with his new daughter-in-law. On the other hand, George’s inarticulate brother, Johnny (Ben McKenzie), is in a state of deep anger at pretty much everyone around him, but especially George.
It’s not surprising that Johnny is unhappy and jealous. With a low paying job in a mail order company, he’s stuck in his old room at his parents’ house, struggling to get his GED, and full adulthood is knocking on his door: his sweet, weight-obsessed wife, Ashley (Amy Adams) is about to give birth.
And it’s the young wife and her baby that emerge as the focus of the film. Ashley is extremely naïve and far from intelligent. On the other hand, she loves her family with an unshakable determination and she utterly adores Madeleine. It makes a kind of sense: Madeleine is in many ways as different from her as can be: highly educated, worldly, and reserved, if almost as kindhearted as Ashley. But is Madeleine kindhearted enough?
For me, “Junebug” presents something of a dilemma. The film is impeccable in its ensemble acting and most of its aesthetic choices. Yet it’s not clear to me that its “contemplative” approach does much to reward the audience’s attention. “Junebug” is an admirable film, but its charms will be visible only to the most patient filmgoers.