Hippo Manchester
October 6, 2005


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Junebug (R)
by Amy Diaz

Two women attempt to relate to husbands they don’t entirely know in the charming, delightful Junebug.

Junebug is a movie as cleverly cute as the small wooden birds one of the characters in it crafts. The action occurs almost entirely within the walls of a suburban home in North Carolina. George (Alessandro Nivola) returns to this home after making a life in the city to introduce his family to his new wife, Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz). Madeleine sees their trip to his family as a side trip in her business travel aimed at wooing an “artist” for her outsider art gallery back in Chicago. Married six months, this couple knew each other only a week before tying the knot. So little do they know about each other that George doesn’t think to explain his Southern and distrustful family nor their god-fearing ways before more or less dumping Madeleine in their company and retiring to the comfort of his parents’ couch. Peg (Celia Weston), George’s mother, hears Madeleine’s British accent and takes her overtures at friendship as patronizing. George’s dad, Eugene (Scott Wilson), likes her well enough but is a generally standoffish guy and not likely to bridge the gap between mother and daughter-in-law.

The only true welcome comes from Ashley (Amy Adams), wife of George’s brother Johnny (Ben McKenzie). Ashley bubbles with enthusiasm for all aspects of the wider world, wanting with almost palpable hunger, to know every detail of Madeleine’s exotic-sounding life. Just as Madeleine is fully absorbed by her gallery to the exclusion of most other things, Ashley is heart and soul invested in her baby, due at any moment. So totally wrapped up in the child she hopes will serve as the foundation for her life’s meaning is Ashley that she can’t bring herself to dwell on her husband’s lack of interest in both the pregnancy and life in general.

What could come off as caricatures of Southern personalities are surprisingly real and organic. This family pulls together, to some extent, for the big life events. But the day-to-day requirements to be there for each other seem beyond at least one member of this brood at any given time. Bitterness, old resentments and new uncertainties keep everyone on edge — much more like a real family than any Steel Magnolia fairy tales.

Particularly fascinating is the relationship between Ashley (played to perfect pitch by Adams) and Madeleine. Both seem to keep their eyes closed to certain facets of their husbands’ characters and seem to project traits they’d like in a husband on these men more than observe them. Their scenes together are perfect — as though one situation (uncertain wife) is being played out in mirror images (city mouse, country mouse).

Junebug is as darling and clever as the name implies with characters that keep your eyes glued to the screen.