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JUNEBUG

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Amy Adams, Embeth Davidtz, Ben McKenzie, Alessandro Nivola, Frank Hoyt Taylor, Celia Weston, Scott Wilson
Director: Phil Morrison
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.0
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio: Sony Home Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: 106 Minutes
Release Date: January 17, 2006

ďGod loves you just the way you are, but he loves you too much to let you stay that way.Ē

Film ***1/2

Living in the south all my life, I can certainly say that this region hasnít always been depicted in such a bright light when it comes to the movies. Stories set in the south always tend to bring with it a great deal of stereotypes. Junebug is a true breath of fresh air, and is a rare film to depict characters in the south as real people, and not simply the stereotypes weíre used to seeing.

Credit the director, Phil Morrison, and screenwriter, Angus MacLachlan, for crafting such a rich portrait of small town life. These are characters that worth spending two hours with, no matter how flawed some of them are. Many of the characters in Junebug are somewhat flawed, thus making them ultimately human. Itís not everyday, though, that we get to see characters in southern settings depicted in this manner.

The film opens in Chicago, where successful art dealer Madeline (Embeth Davidtz) meets a man named George (Alessandro Nivola) at an art benefit. The two fall almost instantly in love and eventually get married. When she asks where heís from, sheís a little stunned to learn that he comes from a small town in North Carolina.

Six months go by. One day, Madeline gets word of an eccentric artist named David Wark (Frank Hoyt Taylor). It just so happens that the artist not only resides in North Carolina, but lives not far at all from Georgeís family in the Winston-Salem area. So she convinces George to take her to North Carolina to meet the artist, and to meet his family as well.

George brings his wife to meet his family at a pivotal point. His younger brother, Johnny (Ben McKenzie), is about to become a father. He just recently married Ashley (Amy Adams), his high school sweetheart, and she is about to give birth. The mom (Celia Weston) and father (Scott Wilson) are simply dealing with the pressures of possibility of her going into labor at any moment.

Ashley, played by Adams in one of the best breakthrough performances in years, is as sweet-natured as they come. Even at nine months pregnant, she is taken back by Georgeís new wife and all of her big city traits. Sheís a chatty individual, but thatís just who she is, and seems to treat everyone around here with a sense of real enthusiasm.

To be honest, she needs something to make her happy right now. It turns out that Johnny, an auto mechanic, has been keeping a certain distance from the very thing that he should be keeping focus of. Itís the way that he handles all of his problems, by escaping and keeping things to himself. In the case of Ashley and Johnny, opposites really do attract.

Meanwhile, Madeline is overcome by the eccentric qualities of the family she is surrounded by. She smiles all the time as she gets to know Georgeís parents, his brother, and especially, the uplifting mother to be. Even when she feels as if this family is strange, she keeps it to herself. As for George, there is subtle tension developing between him and Johnny over the way heís avoiding Ashleyís pregnancy.

The film was a big discovery at last yearís Sundance. Amy Adams very deservingly won the festivalís top acting honor. One of the reviews compared director Phil Morrison to that of Woody Allen, and I couldnít think of a better comparison, as Junebug is most equivalent to an observant Allen film, only taking place in the south.

To simply put it, Junebug is simply a gem of a movie. Itís as true and as honest about the people itís depicting as any movie youíll see about family life in the southern town, or a small town for that matter. Highlighted by Amy Adamsí winning performance, this is fine film that deserves to be discovered.

Video ****

Sonyís anamorphic presentation is nothing short of beautiful. The images captured in the cinematography by Peter Donahue resonate terrifically in the discís video performance. Image quality is clear as can be, and colors are as rich and alive as can be.

Audio ***

Solely a dialogue-driven film and nothing else, the supplied 5.0 mix achieves grandly in doing all that it can. Occasional pop ups of music, courtesy of composer Yo La Tengo, give the presentation an appropriate boost. Dialogue delivery is as sharply delivered as can be.

Features ***1/2

A nice collection of extras here, including a wonderfully engaging commentary track with stars Amy Adams and Embeth Davidtz. Listening to this commentary, you realize that Ms. Adams may just be as sunny and peachy in real life as she was in the film. Also featured are five behind the scenes featurettes, casting session footage, deleted scenes, a very eye catching art gallery, and bonus trailers.

Summary:

Junebug is an independent gem, and is definitely worthy of all the praise it got this past year. Films set in the south have never felt more personal or real as this one. Itís one that truly deserves to be seen by those who appreciate observant character pieces.

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