Junebug

on August 03, 2005 by Kim Williamson
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Given that he's best known for directing music videos (for Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo and the Lemonheads), it sort of makes sense when first-time feature filmmaker Phil Morrison says, "I've never had that feeling of 'this story must be told.' That's sort of a prose-based inspiration.... I've been inspired more by moments, or by phenomena, in movies.... Just a couple transcendental moments are enough to make a movie worthwhile to me." Audiences that share Morrison's particular take on what cinema should be have a true treat in store for them with Sony Classics' "Junebug"; those who favor the whole over the parts could be less enthused.

Teaming with playwright Angus MacLachlan, Morrison tells a story of the stranger-in-a-strange-land variety at the center of which is Madeleine ("The Emperor's Club's" Embeth Davidtz). Born to a British diplomat in Japan and now living as an art dealer in the Windy City, Madeleine, before opening-credits' end, has a chance-and-entrance moment with a young Southern gent ("Laurel Canyon's" Alessandro Nivola) who's happened into a showing and, poof, they're married. Wanting to land the artwork for her gallery of a just-discovered, barely-this-side-of-sane primitive artist (Frank Hoyt Taylor) who lives in the same part of rural North Carolina as does new husband George's family, the newlyweds head southward -- in far more than just a geographic sense -- from the sophisticated climes of Chicago. There, she meets what might be called a collection of lost souls -- the prickly mother (Celia Watson), withdrawn father (Scott Wilson), angry younger brother (Benjamin McKenzie), and his overly sweet pregnant wife (Amy Adams, whose turn won her an acting prize at Sundance) -- except none of them sees himself as lost, just trapped in an unwanted life. As might be expected, frictions arise, generated by the clash of personalities and also by the clash of cultures.

If there were an Oscar for ensemble acting, "Junebug" would be a candidate this February; one rarely has a sense of watching a movie or actors -- more often, it seems as if you're sitting in a chair with these folks, silently seeing real life occur around you. That real life, like real life, carries obvious importance to the various characters, and the emotional impacts are deep; at tale's end, though, "Junebug" doesn't really mean anything. Which isn't surprising, given that the film never seemed headed anywhere in particular. Except south. Starring Embeth Davidtz, Alessandro Nivola, Amy Adams, Ben McKenzie, Scott Wilson and Celia Watson. Directed by Phil Morrison. Written by Angus MacLachlan. Produced by Mindy Goldberg and Mike S. Ryan. A Sony Classics release. Drama. Rated R for sexual content and language. Running time: 107 min

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