In life as in art, choose well, Junebug reminds us, because you'll be living with the decision
"Meet the family" dramas usually hang their hat on the formula Meet the Parents ably spoofed: the nails-on-chalkboard contrast between one member's beloved and the rest of his or her clan. In Junebug, the likable Sundance darling from alt-rock video veteran Phil Morrison, sophisticated gallery dealer Madeline is assigned the uncomfortable and dangerous role of fly in the ointment to her husband George's North Carolina folks. Model-thin, House-of-Lords confident with an accent to match, she is darkest night to the day of her mother-in-law Peg, a North Carolina native who makes crafts not unlike the "outsider" art that Madeline sells in Chicago. You can't do much with your hands, Peg the master seamstress observes, "But George knew that when he married you." The reticent, hardened Peg's obvious disappointment that her son George, a post-Reconstruction Ashley Wilkes, chose to leave his middle-class country life behind is inflamed by his choice of Madeline, who walks and talks like a direct rejection of Peg's motherhood.
|Alessandro Nivola and Scott Wilson portray son and father in Junebug, a tale of homecoming and attractive opposites.|
George's childhood home is hardly a hotbed of contentment. His seething younger brother, Johnny, isn't happy to see Madeline, or George, who receives a hero's welcome after a three-year absence. Johnny's very pregnant wife, Ashley, seems to have a benign form of Tourette's that causes her to blurt out every thought and feeling that flits through her mind. She is a volcano of love to her in-laws' brewing discontent and conflicted emotions. "I love her!" she effuses within five minutes of meeting Madeline, later confiding to her that she wants to name the baby Junebug. Peg treats Johnny and Ashley, who have moved back home, like the children they still are, sending them to bed and scolding Ashley when her fizziness threatens to bubble over. The boys' taciturn father, Eugene, nags Johnny about the half-disassembled auto that fills the garage, but seems at a loss how to help any of his hurting family members. Scenes of museum-quiet rooms, pressed doilies and handmade dust ruffles in place, make it apparent that the easygoing, charmed George left a hole that nothing - especially Johnny, much to his torment - can fill.
Dir. Phil Morrison; writ. Angus MacLachlan; feat. Embeth Davidtz, Amy Adams, Alessandro Nivola, Benjamin McKenzie, Celia Weston, Scott Wilson, Frank Hoyt Taylor (R)
Into that raw place stumbles Madeline, who has insisted she and her husband of six-month's marriage and seven-month's acquaintance visit the folks while she is in hot pursuit of an outsider artist modeled on Henry Darger (and played by Frank Hoyt Taylor as if he were channeling Billy Bob Thornton). The woman who seems mouth-watering glamorous to Ashley is a bull in a china shop to the rest of the clan. Almost comically unaware of personal space and the way body language can read quite differently in other cultures, she is suddenly The Sheltering Sky's Kit, senselessly indulging herself in terra incognita without regard to the consequences. Peg treats her abominably, but Madeline proves her own boorishness, exploiting the artist's prejudices to land the deal.
The fetishization of so-called outsider art is drolly ridiculed in Junebug, especially in the opening scene, when lacquered collectors bid on a piece called "My True Love. True, True, True." This is where George and Madeline meet for the first time and the physical passion of that first encounter drives their relationship, even when they're confined to an inflatable mattress on the floor of Junebug's future room. They have each found an outsider artist to take home, a reminder of every honest curator's advice to prospective buyers: Make sure you love it, because you're the one that has to live with it. •
By Elaine Wolff