Directed by Phil Morrison
Sony Pictures Classics
A sensitive tale of family and art fails to live up to it's promise.
Sony Pictures released this on their &quot;Classics&quot; label and I can't tell if that is a high accolade or just a way of consigning to the graveyard this film which has its merits but very little commercial potential. The damned thing is so earnest one is surprised not to find Aidan Quinn's name somewhere in the credits. The promo material refers to &quot;Junebug&quot; as a &quot;serious comedy&quot; but the comedy part of that description is nowhere to be found in the film itself. Critics have given this film a raving reception that I cannot quite understand. It is heartfelt, with regular flashes of acting brilliance. The direction (by Phil Morrison) is subdued, if far more self-confident than one would expect from a first time director. The tension that builds throughout the story is palpable, but the final payoff (which most viewers will see coming from afar) is more than a little disappointing. The ending lacks impact.
Nominally, this is the story of country boy George Johnston (Alessandro Nivola), who has become citified (in the first two minutes of the film) both by his current residence of Chicago and also his cosmopolitan wife, Madeleine (a luminous Embeth Davidtz). She is an agent for &quot;outsider artists&quot; and so she and her husband head down to North Carolina to attempt contact with a famously reclusive painter clearly modeled on the late Reverend Howard Finster (the guy who painted a few of those early REM album covers). &quot;Junebug&quot; is thus your basic clash-of-culture story, but, to be fair, it is a good deal more sensitive and observant than most. The characters are well drawn and the writing has a good amount of subtlety, but the viewer just keeps waiting for something (besides character-detail sketching) to happen. And then waiting some more.
Plot conflict arrives in the form of George's family, whom he has seemingly left behind back down south. That family features a resigned, somewhat depressed father (a brilliant Scott Wilson, who should take more films, more often), a contrarian mother (Celia Weston), and, most importantly, George's brother Johnny and Johnny's pregnant wife, brilliantly rendered by Amy Adams. Johnny is something of a neer-do-well and the brooding and bubbling menace projected by Ben MacKenzie adds significant suspense to the overall story. All of these characters live under one roof for the duration of the film and a building tension seems to be the main motif.
Blood eventually proves to be thicker than water, though, and the result is not hard to predict. Unfortunately, when the denoument comes, it is neither unexpected nor terribly shocking.
This piece was first printed in the Louisville Eccentric Observer.