Movies Reviews

(Above: Embeth Davidtz)

Morrison’s debut marked by strong sense of place, genuine feeling and a delicate, non-denigrating humor

One of the best films at this year’s Sundance Festival, Junebug announces the feature directorial debut of Phil Morrison. Working with the paradigm of the outsider (in this case a beautiful art dealer who travels from Chicago to North Carolina to pursue a painter and meet the family of her new husband), the film centers on the familial and cultural clashes that result from this unexpected encounter.

Set over one long, intense weekend, the story details how the seductive presence of Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz) challenges the mores and affects the fragile equilibrium of a Southern family whose dynamics and socioeconomic makeup are most particular. Indeed, the characters (with their rich exterior and inner lives), the house and the land are specific to the region.

George (Alessandro Nivola) is the elder brother and favored son who’s always shone bright through his charm and talents. He’s contrasted with his younger, immature brother, Johnny (The OC’s Ben McKenzie), who still lives in his parents’ house in a state of denial about his marriage to Ashley (Amy Adams, who won a Special Jury award at Sundance for her performance), who’s about to give birth. The arrival of the Golden Boy and his wife places Johnny’s weaknesses into sharper focus, and various conflicts erupt as members of the family try to accept Madeleine as one of their own.

Deliberate pacing and contemplativeness—qualities associated with the South—inform Junebug, which boasts sharp characterization, crisp dialogue and meticulous attention to physical locale. The various narrative strands establish significant links between this wonderful sampler of regional cinema and other films about familial tensions and siblings rivalries (In the Bedroom, Pieces of April).

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