Thursday, February 18, 2010

Underrated Movie #41: Junebug



Title: Junebug
Year: 2005
Director: Phil Morrison
Writer: Angus MacLachlan
Stars: Amy Adams (Enchanted), Embeth Davidtz (“Mad Men”), Alessandro Nivolla, Ben McKenzie (“Southland”)

The Story: A chic Chicago gallery owner marries a hunky transplant from North Carolina. When she wants to do business with an untrained painter who lives near his hometown, she quickly gets wrapped up in the ups and downs of his family, especially his effervescent sister-in-law.

How it Came to be Underrated: This seemed like a breakout hit at the time, and it justifiably rocketed Adams to stardom, but it's been five years and neither Morrison nor MacLachlan have gotten their names on any more movies. That’s a real shame, because this is one of the best American films of the last decade.

This will be an unusually long “Why It’s Great” because I can’t get over how SMART this movie is:

  1. The supposed “red state / blue state divide” has so thoroughly poisoned the American dialogue that it’s now shocking to see a movie that's equally sympathetic towards both big city art-dealers and their small-town religious kin. Davidtz refuses to understand the attitudes of her husband’s family and they do no better with her, but we soon realize that the conflicts across that divide are nothing compared to the long-simmering conflicts within each half of the family, which are the real problem. The cultural debates are just a sideshow.
  2. The direction and the acting tease a lot of meaning out of the understated script. With each line, we understand instantly (a) what the person is trying to say, (b) what they’re unintentionally revealing about themselves, and (c) how the other person is hearing something completely different. And yet, while we’re acutely aware of everyone’s failings, we remain sympathetic to them all.
  3. The movie incisively re-creates the humorous little passive-aggressive slights that families inflict on each other when they visit, like “accidentally” turning off the light when somebody’s down in the basement, or offering to help somebody do something that they won't admit they're doing.
  4. The movie resists the urge to present the uneducated artist as a saintly child of the earth –the same rawness that makes him a valuable artist also makes him bigoted— but when he shows his nightmarishly crude canvases and says, “My job here is to make the invisible visible,” the line is unironic. That's exactly what each one of them, whether sophisticated or unsophisticated, is desperately trying to do.
  5. We’ve had so many underwhelming prefab movie stars foisted on us in recent years, so it’s a rare joy to watch someone become a star onscreen the old-fashioned way. I walked into the movie having no idea who Amy Adams was and walked out thinking “She is so damned good that I will watch her in anything!” That’s how you make a star.
  6. I love how people who watch this movie wildly disagree about who’s to blame for these misunderstandings. Some get furious at the wife, some at the husband, some at the mom, but no two people ever seem to feel quite the same way.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Director David Gordon Green also did a great job bringing small-town North Carolina life to arthouse audiences with George Washington and All the Real Girls.

How Available Is It?: Curiously, the dvd has a commentary with Adams and Davidtz, but nothing from Morrison and MacLachlan. Had they already faded off into the mist by the time the dvd came out?

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: I Didn’t Notice That Crazy Looking Painter!

1 comment:

Audrey said...

I found the tone of Junebug to be strikingly similar to that of one of my favorite movies, True Stories.