Monday, August 21, 2006

Junebug (2005)

JunebugJunebug received strong critical reviews, and an oscar nomination for supporting actress Amy Adams earlier this year, but my heart initially sank at the 'indie' opening to the movie - poor Super 8 footage of some North Carolina locals making odd whooping noises, amateur big red blocky titles, and a tinny, weak mono soundtrack didn't make for an auspicious start.

Fortunately things quickly improved after the opening title sequence.


Embeth Davidtz plays Madelaine a British art dealer who gets smitten with handsome, clean-cut customer George (Alessandro Nivola) and after a whirlwind marriage takes the opportunity to mix business with pleasure by visiting his dysfunctional family in Northern Carolina some six months after their marriage.


I say 'dysfunctional', but the beauty of the piece is that each family member has some redeeming feature that most will be able to identify with. Although there's a lot of humour in the piece, it's always done so that one is laughing WITH the characters, rather than at them. There's the prickly mother Peg, her taciturn and rather sad husband Eugene, and George's brother, Johnny who is having a difficult time in his marriage to pregnant Ashley, and strongly resents his brother's return visit.


Amy Adams steals the show, with her performance as Ashley, the rather simplistic girl with the heart of gold, but she's backed up by strong performances all round. Alessandro Nivola shows he has leading man potential, with natural good looks, sexiness and even a good singing voice. Ben McKenzie, best known for his role as the lead in TV Series The O.C. shows critics of his TV performances that he CAN do more than simply roll his eyes and flash his eyelashes when required (although he DOES do rather too much of that here too!) Embeth Davidtz strikes just the right note as unintentionally patronising Madelaine, and Celia Weston excels as the matriarch of the family. With such a strong cast, and a strong script, it would be hard for director Phil Morrison to screw things up, even with the extremely limited budget he had, and thankfully he doesn't, turning in a heart-warming film that is never schmaltzy, and tells us the old-age story about how once we've left home we can never really go back.


Packaged as a two-disc set, one wonders why the two discs were really necessary, as the extra's are strong evidence of the 'little-to-no-budget indie' production. Unfortunately the director is largely invisible, and his comments on the deleted scenes, often very different variations of the same dialogue scene, could have added so much more to the package. The commentary track is from the two female leads, and suffers from being far too gushing in places. Accidental indiscretions about actors' insecurities are always amusing to hear and help make the track listenable, and for those looking there is genuine insight into how actors really are just very small cogs in the whole process of movie making.


There are six 3-5 minute featurettes, mainly centred around each of the main characters in the movie, and these vary from 'poor home movie footage' on-the-hoof tours to 'promotional talking head sound bites with repeated clips'. The standout extra is a 20 minute interview with Amy Adams at a screening in London, which gives insight into the acting process, which is further enhanced by two seemingly unedited audition performances from Adams and Ben McKenzie.


Junebug is a quirky film, but one that should appeal to most mainstream audiences and the strong cast make this a 'must see'. Highly recommended!


5 comments:

Lake Fred said...

Saw this movie just last night. Amy Adams was great. Embeth Davidtz really impressed me, too. I would like to see more movies featuring both of these actresses. The male roles didn't impress me. The main character "George" was not really a main character at all. In fact all of the male roles were muted and were understated. I have read where people were impressed with Ben McKenzie's acting. I didn't think the role required much acting. Any shy introvert could have played his part. Despite all of that, this movie is worth seeing and will remain with you afterwards.

Ian said...

If you listen to the commentary track you'll hear that Alessandro really struggled with trying to find some "meat" to his character. Personally I think his role was just to play the "normal" good looking member of the family as a way for Embeth Davidtz's characters to meet the other characters.

I think Ben McKenzie's acting has been praised because his acting on The O.C. has been so underwhelming that people are shocked to find he can actually play a different character and put on a different accent.

Personally I felt that Embeth Davidtz worked well because she was playing herself, but I'm certainly interested in seeing whatever Amy Adams does next. In fact I must revisit "Catch me if you can" because I don't remember her being in that at all.

InsideFilmNZ said...

Gidday Young Ian,
Fantastic to get your message on my blog and now be able to leave one here for you. Site looks great, one of the amazing aspects of living where you do, to an antipodean such as me, is you can jump across the ditch to countries of vastly differing cultures. Budapest looks and sounds great. Apart from the storms!
Cheers mate. Have caught up with Brian s blog also, thanks.

InsideFilmNZ said...

Gidday Young Ian,
Fantastic to get your message on my blog and now be able to leave one here for you. Site looks great, one of the amazing aspects of living where you do, to an antipodean such as me, is you can jump across the ditch to countries of vastly differing cultures. Budapest looks and sounds great. Apart from the storms!
Cheers mate. Have caught up with Brian s blog also, thanks.

Ian said...

Yes, we are very lucky in having so many places to visit on our doorstep. But I envy you your own country with its diverse areas, welcoming people and higher 'quality of life' when compared with the more materialistic sort of lifestyle we have over here.

Keep blogging, and doing such a great job (providing a real service to the local communuty) on your radio show.