Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Junebug tells the story of a newly married couple, George (Alessandro Nivolo) and Madeline (Embeth Davidtz). George and Madeline travel from Chicago to North Carolina so that Madeline can recruit a local artist to exhibit at her gallery. They use the opportunity to visit George's family, who happens to live only 30 minutes away. What Madeline finds at the house is a complex and repressed family, which is put into turmoil by the visit of herself and her husband.

First off, this is a strange movie.

Not David Lynch strange, more like a low budget student film kind of strange. For instance, the movie inexplicably opens with scenes of men yodeling. I guess one can argue that the scenes are creating an atmosphere around the film. But in reality, from what I can gather, it serves no purpose to the story. It seems that its just a different kind of moment put into the movie to be...well...quirky. Director Phil Morrison also likes to line up silent images and shots of atmosphere throughout his film. For example he'll shoot the image of trees lightly blowing in the wind for 10 seconds, then he'll cut to an empty street for 10 seconds, then a kitchen table set for another 10 seconds. The images aren't something that's breathlessly beautiful to behold like in a Malick or Jarmusch film. They also aren't moments meant to express the passage of time, because the moments happen AFTER a fade-out of the previous scene. They are just moments of silence that gives the viewer an effective uneasy feeling that makes us feel like we are watching a unique film about non-traditional characters. If this sounds pretentious, that's because it is. I'm not sure that it entirely works, but I respect the vision.

Maybe I'm missing the point, maybe there is poignant symbolism being practiced. After some thought I came up with the interpretation that the silent scenes are expressing that the world is calm and still, and humanity creates their own stress and difficulties in life. Could be bullshit though. Maybe it's just scenes of fucking silence.

As far as the characters go, the movie is impressive and unique in it's ability to capture the truthful moments, and dynamics of the different characters. Not much effort is put into revealing a back story, or explaining certain relationships. The movie is simply observing the characters as they live from moment to moment, much like real life.

As a viewer, it's rather uncomfortable to watch, because questions arise about characters that have no intention to be answered. For instance the relationship between the two brothers is strained, but there is no explanation why. One can assume that there's family jealousy, maybe a bit of resentment by Johnny (Benjamin Mckenzie), because his brother is seemingly perfect. But the audience is never fully sure. A lot of the movie plays on assumptions, because there are no answers. It's like the audience is experiencing the family like the character of Madeline.

We observe the quirky family from up close, but we're afraid to ask why they behave a certain way...because it would be rude.

It's very interesting, and yet also frustrating to experience. It's actually something one doesn't really comprehend while watching the film. But only after, when the viewer has time to reflect. I'm sure a typical movie would give us a short monologue by a character to explain why things are the way they are.

But THIS movie doesn't care about explaining things. Just observing.

On one hand it's refreshing to experience a different way of story telling. But it also tends to push the audience away. We can't really sympathize with the characters, because we aren't allowed into their world. We sympathize with their situations, but not the characters themselves. Which is probably the director's intention. But I don't think it benefits the film. It also is a reason why a lot of people misinterpret the film as a comedy. Lots of the moments are painfully awkward, but because the audience is at an emotional distance from the characters, the audience might feel it's darkly comedic or morbidly fun.

But in reality it's not really funny.

I think the moments are painfully truthful and awkward, if anything it's funny because we recognize the behavior being displayed in our own family lives. It's really interesting to consider. I'm sure the viewer will come away thinking that the family being portrayed in the film is strange and quirky. But the reality is, more than most films, these characters are actually very normal. When people let their guards down in life, people tend to be petty, childish, resentful, and....well....strange. I think it's a big triumph of the film to expose those ideas without being dramatic or stereotypical.

That's not to say the movie is completely satisfying. I think the movie is more effective after one has time to absorb the film. It doesn't really work as an enjoyable two hours of entertainment. Since the movie is not necessarily important, it's a little pretentious to have to consider the film hours afterwards.

Lots of the attention the movie is garnering is for the performance of Amy Adams. It's a fun character, actually quite similar to the character she played in the movie Catch me if you can. It's a little surprising that she's nominated for the Academy Award, but not totally absurd. She does do a good job. If anything I came away impressed with Benjamin McKenzie's work. He rarely speaks in the film, lots of his work is internal and subtle, not something one expects from an actor from the television show The O.C.

Overall, I found the film interesting and unique. Like I said earlier, I'm not sure it works as a piece of entertainment, but if one is looking for a challenging and thought provoking piece.....about a simple family, then this is the movie to watch.

It's now available on DVD.

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