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    Southern exposure

    "Junebug" is a modest movie about a Southern family's foibles, made quite watchable by its affectionately conceived characters and subtle portrayals.


    Movie critics are people just like you except, instead of having a job, they sit in plush chairs in darkened rooms and stare at a screen for up to 10 hours a day having their formerly college-educated minds hypnotically softened into a gray porridge. You, perhaps, are still able to enjoy a night out at the movies, whether you're watching "Citizen Kane" or "Meet the Fockers," but not the poor critic. After his 200th action flick with samurai swords and his 300th romantic-comedy about a working-class girl whose virtue is recognized by a handsome, rich prince and — more to the point in this case — his 87th quirky indie about a mixed-up family, he stops watching for plain old enjoyment and starts picking out all the clichés he's resentful about having to sit through yet again.

    Directed by: Phil Morrison.
    Written by: Angus MacLachlan.
    Cast: Amy Adams, Embeth Davidtz, Ben McKenzie, Alessandro Nivola, Frank Hoyt Taylor, Celia Weston, Scott Wilson.
    Cinematography: Peter Donahue.
    Edited by: Joe Klotz.
    Uptown Theater
    511 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle
    Friday, June 10, 2005, 7:00 PM
    Harvard Exit
    807 E. Roy St., Seattle
    Sunday, June 12, 2005, 2:00 PM

    New Directors / New Films 2005
    • Overview
    • The Hero
    • Private
    • South of the Clouds
    • Official site
    Seattle Film Festival 2005
    • Overview

     • Official site

    • 9 Songs
    • After the Day Before
    • Cape of Good Hope
    • Frozen
    • Junebug
    • Machuca
    • Max and Grace
    • The Real Dirt on Farmer John
    • The Syrian Bride
    • The World
    It takes one of two things to cut through the critic's desensitized haze — either a smashingly original idea, or the same old ideas re-envisioned with unusual grace. "Junebug" is a nice example of the second.

    Big-city newlyweds Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz) and George (Alessandro Nivola) are led back to George's home in North Carolina not because he particularly wants to introduce his bride to his family but because she has business in the area. Eager to sign a backwoods outsider artist named David Wark (reminiscent of the late Howard Finster) before the big New York galleries discover him, she has made the trip from Chicago with unsigned contract in hand and husband in tow. The dimwitted, bigoted — or in art-world terms, naif — painter reproduces scenes from the War of Northern Aggression in which the soldiers shoot each other with their giant penises.

    "Now here, I couldn't finish Lee's cock on the front so I put it on the back," Wark tells her in a slow drawl.

    "That's General Lee's cock?"


    The family is only slightly less touched than the artistic genius. George's dad shuffles around the house as if looking for his lost marbles. Mom struggles to keep up appearances while her other son, Johnny, who feels like everybody else is better than him and is probably right, mopes around the house stealing her cigarettes. Johnny's wife, Ashley, is about to have their first child, and her attempts to establish a girl-talk relationship with the bourgeois Madeleine are some of the movie's nicest, funniest and most hostility-free moments, sparkling with eager, good-natured misconnection. The two talk about foreign countries, the possibility of going to the mall, and her husband troubles, which she's fairly sure are temporary. "I know as soon as he sees that baby, he's going to snap out of it," Ashley enthuses. "I think."

    "Junebug" is a rather plainly rendered portrait of some Southern characters. (If it were a painting it certainly wouldn't have any bullet-spurting generals' cocks in it.) What it has to recommend it is the way its characters express the subtleties of less-than-normal life under the strictures of normal life. Things that northerners might discuss openly — their anxieties, hostilities, sexuality — ripple unmistakeably beneath the surface of these folks' polite conversation. What could have been a nice, simple "You're such an asshole" is rephrased this way: "God loves you just the way you are, but he loves you too much to let you stay that way." Even dad shows that speechlessness is not cluelessness; on the rare times when he feels moved to speak, he always seems to have the right few words to say.

    And there are scenes — like one where George is called on to sing a hymn at a church-basement luncheon after services and Madeleine sees this side of her husband for the first time — in which the possiblity of condescension is balanced by a sincere respect for these people's way of life. If, perhaps, George represents the point of view of director Phil Morrison and writer Angus MacLachlan, he represents their ambivalence toward their roots, a kind of eye-rolling affection toward a way of life that includes its share of petty irritations and eccentric crackpots but still lets people somehow get along. They've made a movie in which it's the small things — the emotions disguised and the characters subtly revealed — that are really done right.

    JUNE 2, 2005

    Reader comments on Junebug:

  • ????????????   from tessa foss doyle, May 19, 2006
  • Junebug   from Richard J., Mar 25, 2007
  • JUNEBUG   from jonalisa, May 10, 2008
  • Amy Adams in "Junebug"   from Richard Ecker, Aug 21, 2012
  • School Reunion   from Peter Host Madsen, Apr 13, 2015

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