' Cinema Romantico: Junebug

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Junebug

I watched “Junebug” on Sunday in order to get myself completely up to speed with all the films bearing contenders for the Academy Awards (save for the one starring Dame Judi Dench and “North Country”). Its lone nominee was Amy Adams for Supporting Actress. And she is nothing short of wonderful. She plays a pregnant wife who likes to talk and talk and talk and talk and talk…but more on her a minute.

The movie tells a story that is pretty conventional. Big-City Woman (Embeth Davidtz) returns home with her Small-Town Husband to meet the Unaccepting Family and the Mandatory Outsider (Adams). The "twist" is that the Big-City Woman – let’s call her Madeleine – is an art dealer and has come to the south not only to meet the Small-Town Husband’s - let's call him George - family but also to lock up a deal with a famed recluse of an artist.

But the convention is just a jumping-off point. It doesn’t dwell on it. There is a certain tension hanging over this family. The father hardly speaks, spending his time woodworking crafts that no one ever sees. The mother seems fond of criticism more than anything else. The younger son hardly ever speaks and possesses what appears to be a deep dislike for his older brother. Then, of course, there is the younger son’s pregnant wife – played so capably by Adams.

It’s rare to see a film that is so minimal on both story and character revelation. It basically sets up this scenario and then refuses to push it with idiotic decisions to further a bunch of plot mechanics. It lets us watch these characters over the course of a few days and nothing more. I found it refreshing. We see George get up at a town potluck and sing a hymn. Madeleine helps George’s younger brother with his book report (he’s attempting to attain his G.E.D.) They get in an argument and the younger brother reacts much as you might expect – but it watch it closer. It’s not necessarily that he wants to do what he does, it’s just that he doesn’t know any better.

The dislike between the brothers is never really spelled out in any detail. We’re aware of its existence but that’s all. It may be they don’t even know anymore what started it. At the end of the film, the two come face-to-face and the younger brother winds up flinging a wrench at George’s face. What comes next, do you suppose? A heartfelt moment wherein both brothers come together, exchange a few words, embrace, and declare they will be “better brothers”? Wrong! As I recall, the two don't even share another scene in the movie. The feud will continue and nothing much will change. Ah, real life.

What's the theme? The point of the movie, you may ask? Is it family comes first? Possibly. Madeleine's deal with the reclusive artist is used as a device to make her decide between her career and her adopted family. George hints at what he wants her to do but does not force her decision. The mother is none too taken with Madeleine and asks her husband why George married her. "He loves her", the father says. "She loves him." It's that simple. Or is it? The movie doesn't say so and would be less interesting if it did.

Right. I almost forgot. Amy Adams. She is delightful. She is bubbly and chattering (endlessly) but plays it quite consciously as a woman who acts this way to mask a much deeper sadness. But there’s a scene in particular I want to mention. It was five of the most glorious minutes of cinema from all of 2005. I had to rewind it and watch it again. As I stated, she’s pregnant. And if you put on your thinking cap you can probably deduce in this type of movie what will happen to the baby. But that’s beside the point. It merely lets her do what precious few movies let actresses do – go through the entire human palate of human emotion in a matter of minutes. The hospital sequence is a nod to a scene in “You Can Count on Me” in which Laura Linney takes a similar journey of emotion (which itself is a nod to a scene in “Stromboli” in which Ingrid Bergman does the same). It’s bold and brilliant. She starts out happy – but it’s that kind of happiness you project when in denial. Then she – a devout Christian – turns on God. And then she returns back to the person we knew, asking her brother in law for some “peanuts”. This scene is flat-out as good as it gets and all alone worth the price of a rental.

If you’re looking for an evening away from the grandiose gestures of Hollywood, I would recommend “Junebug”. It would be an evening well spent.

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