Review: Junebug

11 Sep 12

Slice of Life

Junebug is the story of an adult son George (Alessandro Nivola) visiting his middle class southern American family with his new, cosmopolitan wife Madeline (Embeth Davidtz).

George and Madeline met at her art gallery for outsider art in Chicago, and married quickly and in the name of lust it seems. Once they arrive at George's home, George is noticeably absent, leaving Madeline to fend for herself. He doesn't shield or her or guide her through the family's workings as would be expected by most new wives.

Madeline quickly gets on the wrong side of her new mother in law, Peg (Celia Weston) by repeatedly calling her Pat when they first meet. One does get the sense that Peg would not have welcomed Madeline in any case. Madeline's sophistication noticeably grates against the family's simplicity. Madeline does try her hardest to fit in, but she isn't accepted by George's parents or brother Johnny (Ben McKenzie). Luckily she has Johnny's wife, Ashley (Amy Adams) on her side. Ashley welcomes Madeline as though she is a celebrity, with questions at a million miles an hour.

Amy Adams broke my heart with her sweetness, naivety and excitement. Her adoration of and patience with her undeserving sullen husband Johnny (Ben McKenzie) is summed up when she says to him after yet another irrational outburst, "God loves you just the way you are, but he loves you too much to let you stay that way".

We are not told exactly why Johnny is so angry. The scene showing him happy at work seems to indicate that his anger comes from his family. My guess is that he is frustrated at his own shortcomings and failure to achieve what he believes he is capable of. He can hardly communicate, let alone express his feelings. The scene where he tries, and fails, to record a programme for his wife on Meerkats (her favourite) was fantastic. It showed that he really does care for his wife but he cannot express his love or deal with his emotions in a healthy way. Without this scene Johnny's nastiness would be irredeemable.

This is a film that does not judge. It does not villainise or revere. It doesn't so much tell a story but show the characters in a believable environment; in an honest and unflinching manner. The characters are the sum of their parts. They are complex, like life is complex.