There’s a moment in Phil Morrison’s marvelous Junebug that is so pure and moving, in such an unexpected way, that it’s as if the world were opening up before you. Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), a Chicago art gallery owner who is tall and angular, with a posh transatlantic accent, has arrived in North Carolina with her new husband, George (Alessandro Nivola). The two are staying with his family, who could modestly be described as truly, madly, deeply Southern. We’re primed for a ripely funny culture clash, and the movie doesn’t disappoint, as Madeleine, with her Euro double kisses, does her best to mingle with the unvarnished members of George’s moody, polite, yet barely welcoming middle-class clan.
For a while, George himself, a sexy Southern boy-turned-urban professional (he looks like a financier, though it isn’t specified what he does), appears nearly as alien to his family’s taciturn, Formica-and-wood-paneling style as his glamorous wife is. Then they attend a church supper, and George, reuniting with old friends, stands up to lead a hymn. As he sings about Jesus calling him home, his voice is suffused with reverence, and Madeleine stares at her husband in shock, as if seeing him for the very first time. In a sense, she is.
There have, by now, been so many strenuously cute indie comedies about ”quirky” dysfunctional families and what it takes to overcome them that as you watch Junebug, you may find yourself caught entrancingly off guard by the conflicting shades of love, suspicion, tradition, and mystery that infuse this tale of lost innocence, deep roots, and what it means to come from the world of the South.
Morrison, in his debut feature, views George’s family with serene comic grace: the gruff father (Scott Wilson), a putterer who speaks in affectless monosyllables; the mother (Celia Weston), a plump chain-smoker whose contempt keeps pricking the surface of her ”hospitality”; and the brother (Benjamin McKenzie), a surly screwup stunted with rage.
Madeleine, so wary yet eager to please, is our catalyst for getting to know these folks, and she forges her most surprising bond with the brother’s pregnant wife, Ashley, a gloriously arrested chatterbox — she’s like Scarlett O’Hara with ADD — played by Amy Adams in a performance as deep as it is delightful. She’s the film’s heart and also its flaky, wonderstruck soul.
2006 Oscar Nomination: Best Supporting Actress (Amy Adams)