Every time a new indie arrives on the scene nine times out of 10 it revolvesaround a dysfunctional family. Even in the past 12 months ImaginaryHeroes, Chumscrubber and The Squid and the Whale have beenjust three examples. So, here comes Junebug yet another independent dramarevolving around a family with problems. But do we really need yet anotherfilm from such a depressingly familiar subgenre?
Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz) is a high-brow Chicago art dealer who is keento attract an eccentric new artist who lives in South Carolina, in themiddle of the country. He is so in demand that she has to go and visit himto attach him to her art gallery. She discovers that the family of her newhusband George (Alessandro Nivola) also live in South Carolina and so theyintend on introducing her to them for the first time. But the familythemselves are unlike anything Madeleine has ever encountered.
Unlike many similarly themed dramas, Junebug doesn’t go for the easyroute. Yes the family are hugely dysfunctional, but they’re notdysfunctional in a clichd way. For once, you actually believe these peoplecould be a genuine family. There are so many moments in the film which couldhave been played for more obvious humour or more heavy-handed pathos but thefilm is remarkably restrained and subtle. The realism of the situationsmakes the film infinitely more involving than many other films of thisilk.
The family themselves are all drawn into three dimensional characters.Yet not through clumsy backstory or tiresome expositions but through thelittle things we do that define who we are. Benjamin McKenzie, best knownfrom The OC, plays the younger son who is quiet and unfriendly and seeminglyunhappy with his girlfriend Ashley’s pregnancy. There is however a wonderfulscene where he tries to do something rarely thoughtful for her. She has anobsession with meerkats and when he sees a programme on them he rushesaround desperately to try and find a tape to record it for her. But he failsand then takes out his anger on her.
Unlike him, Ashley is loud and enthusiastic, but never obnoxious. Infact, her consistent enthusiasm is incredibly infectious. She’s played byAmy Adams, who delivers an incredible breakout role. The only family memberwho really tries to get to know Madeleine, her vulnerability is disarmingand her excitability is frequently hilarious. As the story develops she alsogets to shine in a heartbreaking breakdown scene. She deserves every awardunder the sun for her work here and has already been getting more work offthe back of this.
While the drama increases, the film never panders to sentimentality orstereotypes. There are no grand apologies or uncomfortable reunions betweendistant family members. The writer cleverly realises that some problems infamilies aren’t going to be solved after the hour and a half, many never do.The film also cleverly etches the depression that small towns often contain.
The dreams that never get realised and the people who will never change. Thedialogue in the film is also excellent. Characters speak like real peopleand say what people really would say in such a situation. After theset-in-her-ways mother oversees Ashley receiving a silver spoon in a babyshower she complains, saying ‘that won’t go in the dishwasher’.
Junebug is the independent film you really must track down this year.It’s incisive, witty, moving, thoughtful and brilliantly written. Itdeserves to breakout, rather like Lost In Translation andSideways did, although it may struggle with its lack of stars. A filmlike this excels with word of mouth so I can’t recommend this highly enough.One of the finest films of the year.