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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
Junebug (2005)

Ashley: What kind of things did you like to do when you were a little girl, like what type of things?
Madeleine: Oh, reading and horseback riding...
Ashley: At the same time?

- Amy Adams, Embeth Davidtz

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: January 16, 2006

Stars: Amy Adams, Embeth Davidtz, Benjamin McKenzie, Alessandro Nivola
Other Stars: Celia Weston, Scott Wilson, Frank Hoyt Taylor
Director: Phil Morrison

MPAA Rating: R for sexual content and language
Run Time: 01h:46m:30s
Release Date: January 17, 2006
UPC: 043396119390
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AB+B B

DVD Review

Junebug is a real film, real in the way few films are. The story it tells, the characters it concerns, and the events it depicts are remarkable in that they are so unremarkable. This is a film about families, about the way they work and don't work, the unsaid resentments and silent and shifting alliances and old understandings. It has a very "movie" premise—city boy brings his cultured wife home to North Carolina to meet the folks—but it's about people, not characters or one-note caricatures. Few films are as grounded in reality and still as entertaining, funny, tender, and sad.

George (Alessandro Nivola) is the golden boy of his family; he moved away from Winston-Salem and never looked back. A big success in Chicago, he met and impetuously married Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), curator of an "outsider art" gallery that specializes in self-taught folk artists. It is her desire to exhibit the work of a Winston-Salem native (an obviously mentally ill man who paints Civil War battles with phalluses subbing in for swords and rifles) that finally brings George home; the couple stays with his parents while Madeleine tries to sweet talk the artist.

George's visit brings up old issues and resentments, and Madeleine's polished, cultured presence raises more. Mother Peg (Celia Weston) resents the alien creature that has ensnared her number one son; Eugene (Scott Wilson), his father, is shy and affable, wanting to support his wife and connect with his daughter-in-law at the same time. George's brother Johnny (The O.C.'s Ben McKenzie, once a brooder, always a brooder) has moved back home and, perfectly content with his factory job, could do without his hotshot brother showing him up. If all of these characters hide their emotions and thoughts with politeness or indifference, then Johnny's wife Ashley (Amy Adams) is an open book. Sweet, eager to please and enormously pregnant, Ashley, loved but not shown much love by her emotionally distant husband, latches onto Madeleine right away, peppering her with endless questions about her comparably exotic life.

Many movies would (and many have) find little more in these contrasting characters and lifestyles than broad humor, stereotypes, and slapstick. Screenwriter Angus Maclachlan and director Phil Morrison find truth. Though they may seem like "types" at the start, all of the characters are shown to have depth and nuance beyond your first impression. Johnny is dour at home, but a chatterbox at work; we wonder why he stays with Ashley when he never seems to have any kindness for her, but then we see his one heartbreaking, failed attempt to do something nice for her, and we realize why he acts the way he does. Madeleine comes across as slightly condescending, but she doesn't mean to, and in private moments, we see someone warm and caring, even if George's family doesn't see it. Peg and Eugene act like a real couple, two people who have been married so long, the word love ceases to have any meaning for them—their relationship is full of unspoken meaning, revealed in subtle suggestion. Even Madeleine discovers a new side to her husband, watching him go to church with his family, inexplicably pray before meals, and sing hymns during a potluck dinner. This is not a complex movie, but I love that it shows us these characters without telling us what to think about them.

The plot doesn't cover much ground, but this isn't really a movie about happenings, but people. Yet it isn't boring, nor only for the independent film crowd, despite some odd touches from Morrison (including a number of long silences that feature static shots of empty rooms and scenery that I'm not sure I understand). There is genuine humor to be found, and heart that anyone with a family will be able to relate to. The cast is pretty remarkable, but Amy Adams, who won a special award for her performance at the Sundance Film Festival, is the light at the center of everything. Every emotion, every insecurity and unhappiness is visible on her face despite Ashley's ever-present wide-mouthed grin, and she plays the character's motor-mouthed nervousness and lingering sadness in remarkable ways. Few movies, few actresses, are blessed by a character this loveable, and Adams plays it to the hilt.

In broad terms, Junebug is about small town life versus big city living, Red State values versus Blue State intellect, but really, it's about something much more universal than that—the fact that everyone comes from somewhere, and that sometimes, dealing with that can be a struggle, and a blessing. Junebug is one of the year's best films.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Junebug is visually understated, yet beautiful, and it looks great on DVD. The picture is solid, with strong colors, deep blacks, and little obvious film grain. I spotted a bit of edge enhancement in a few scenes, but it didn't appear distracting on my display. There aren't any artifacting or aliasing problems to speak of.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.0
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: Presented in a rather unusual DD 5.0 mix, the audio sounds fine, though the material is undemanding. Speech comes across clearly and the score expands a bit into the surrounds, which also add subtle atmospheric effects.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French with remote access
8 Other Trailer(s) featuring Capote, The Squid and the Whale, The Memory of a Killer, Thumbsucker, Breakfast on Pluto, The Tenants, Heights, 2046
10 Deleted Scenes
5 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by actors Amy Adams and Embeth Davidtz
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Outsider Art photo gallery
Extras Review: In lieu of a director's commentary, actresses Amy Adams and Embeth Davidtz contribute a warm, engaging, conversational track, filled with detail about the production and their feelings on and interpretations of their characters. It's a little fluffy, obviously, and both have a lot of praise for the writer and director, but they offer a few critical comments about their own work, so they don't sound too self-congratulatory.

Ten deleted scenes are presented with a "play all" option (around 20 minutes total). It's an interesting mix, with some cut sequences, alternate takes, and rough "work-in-progress" versions that include off-screen comments from the director.

Five behind-the-scenes featurettes offer odd glimpses at the filming process, covering familiar material in an unusual way. Places and Faces (03m:30s) is mostly about the sets and the use of Winston-Salem natives as extras. Singing a Hymn (05m:20s) is about Alessandro Nivola's struggles to get through the scene where he sings at the church potluck. Meerkats Gone Wild (03m:06s) focuses on Ben McKenzie's portrayal of Johnny (the title makes sense once you've seen the film). Ashley (02m:35s) is an interview with Amy Adams, discussing her character. All About Peg (02m:49s) is an interview with Celia Weston.

Casting Sessions includes audition reels for Amy Adams (13m:57s) and Ben McKenzie (07m:17s) offering multiple reads on two different scenes. An Outsider Art photo gallery provides a closer look at the unusual "folk" art created for the David Wark character (SEE the phallus close up!).

Rounding out the disc is a fairly excellent trailer gallery, with spots for Capote, The Squid and the Whale, The Memory of a Killer, Thumbsucker, Breakfast on Pluto, The Tenants, Heights, and 2046. Like many Sony Classics releases, this disc includes only French subtitles.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

A tender, bittersweet, achingly real film about the importance and impossibility of family, Junebug is a story you've seen before told in a way you've never seen. Amy Adams is luminous, loveable, and heartbreaking in one of the best performances of the year, and certainly her career.

 


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