JUNEBUG is a fish-out-of-water story about a worldly Chicago art gallery owner, Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz, recently seen as "McDreamy's" sister Nancy on GREY'S ANATOMY) and her new husband George (Alessandro Nivola) traveling to North Carolina to meet his family.
When I began watching the movie, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Madeleine takes a detour during their drive to meet with a folk artist who paints disturbing (!) battle images. Her new mother-in-law (Celia Weston) is rude, her brother-in-law (Ben McKenzie) is surly and disturbed, her father-in-law (Scott Wilson) kind but ineffectual. And the camera had an artsy-craftsy habit of lingering too long on empty rooms and beautiful but empty scenery, not to mention the lengthy process of blowing up an air mattress for expected company. What was to love?
And then Amy Adams burst onto the screen as Madeleine's talkative, cheerful, lonely, innocent, wise, and very pregant new sister-in-law, Ashley. Ashley initially seems like a goofball, but bit by bit the layers underneath are revealed, climaxing in her final scene. I also loved the moment when Ashley tells her husband "God loves you just the way you are, but He loves you too much to let you stay that way." Adams lit up every scene she was in; her performance made the movie. Her Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress was well deserved.
Slowly the film began to grow on me. I liked the unquestioning way Madeleine accepted her new family, despite their strange behavior. I also liked the realistically depicted baby shower -- the awkwardness of an uninvited neighbor coming to the door, the prayer for the unborn baby. The surly brother unexpectedly reveals he cares for his wife when he desperately attempts to videotape a show he happens across on a subject he knows interests her. And when Madeleine saw an entirely new and unexpected side of her husband when he beautifully sang a hymn at a church social, I was hooked.
The movie is a slow-paced character study which requires patience. The emotional payoffs at the end are subtle but worthwhile. While I think some of the reviews I read when the film came out may have overpraised it, the film is worth seeing and sticks with you after the credits roll.
JUNEBUG was filmed on location in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (I especially enjoyed the peek into Replacements, one of my very favorite Internet companies.) The movie runs 106 minutes.
Viewer advisory: JUNEBUG is rated R for language and a couple of sexual situations, including a glimpse of a bare rear end. I didn't find these issues to be too much of a detriment, though I could have done without them; on the positive side, how refreshing to have the couple in question happily married.
JUNEBUG is available on DVD. The extras include a commentary and deleted scenes, but unfortunately no trailer...which is the first thing I look for on any DVD. :)