Junebug totally gets
the American cultural divides between the blue states and the red states.
Unlike so much of the divide in these days, though, this movie doesn't
patronize either side or give either culture a free pass. All of the
people here are right about some things, wrong about others, and if their
lifestyles are different, it doesn't mean they are better.
takes one such culture clash and lets us look
at the people inside it, who they are, what they share and how they are
alike and different. Embeth Davidtz plays Madeleine, a Chicago art
dealer who specializes in finding untrained artists. One night at an
auction, she meets a charming, urbane, handsome man named George (Alessandro
Nivola) and after a whirlwind courtship, they get married. She knows
he is from North Carolina, but has never met George's family. When
Madeleine learns of an
unknown artist named David Wark who has made it his life's work to retell
the story of the Civil War (as he sees it) on canvas, she decides they
should visit George's folks who live nearby. This way she can
kill two birds with one stone.
Once she gets there, she
realizes how much she does not know about her husband. He is a
different man at home than he was in the city. He's no longer the
strong, sophisticated, outgoing man she thought she knew, back on North
Carolina he retreats into himself, becoming awkward, shy and a little needy.
It turns out that he is the
child of a strong-willed mother named Peg (Celia Weston) who keeps a mental
checklist of all the mistakes that the Northerners make in her home.
(She will never correct Madeleine when she mistakenly calls her Pat, but you
know that she is inventorying every single time in her head.) George
is in the middle of a feud with his brother, Johnny (Benjamin McKenzie), a
bitter and angry retail worker who will only talk to George when he is ready
to start an argument. Johnny is about to have a child with his high
school sweetheart Ashley, he lives with his parents and he feels completely
The breakout performance is
Amy Adams as Ashley. Ashley is one of those sainted, rare folks, the
type who only sees the positive side. She is nine months pregnant in a
marriage where her husband has become unbelievably distant and bitter,
however she still yammers excitedly on about nail polish, meerkats, religion
and shopping malls. However, just because Ashley does her best to only
see the good in people and situations, it does not mean she is a stupid
woman. She is a peacemaker, trying to keep those around her happy and
together. She is still astute enough to tell her husband, "God loves
you just the way you are. But he loves you too much to let you stay
Interestingly enough, though
he quietly just putters around the house and often hides in his basement
workshop, George's father Eugene is the one character who seems to
understand all of the others around him and respect them despite their
idiosyncrasies. He may not talk much, but when he does it is
surprisingly insightful. It is a powerfully quiet performance by
veteran actor Scott Wilson, who is a long, long way from his early
performances as murder suspects in a couple of classic 1967 dramas, In
Cold Blood and In the Heat of the Night.
understands and has empathy for all of these people, even
Johnny. In one scene he is alone watching television when he happens
upon a documentary on the meerkat, which he knows is Ashley's favorite
animal. He starts looking desperately for a videotape so he can record
it for her, and you suddenly realize that despite his bitterness there is
still the soul of a man who loves her there. A man who would
desperately love to give his wife a tape about her beloved meerkats.
When he can't find a tape and get it for her, he is bereft.
On the other hand, the
supposed sophisticate often comes out looking silly in this milieu.
Madeleine's rigid pursuit of the artist seems both misguided, slightly
condescending and a little hypocritical. Wark is loud, bigoted,
borderline insane, and his paintings are rather rudimental, garishly violent
and sophomorically sexual. Madeleine is somewhat offended by some of
the things the man says (like his explanation that all the slaves in his
paintings have white faces because he's never really seen a black man --
though that was not the term Wark uses), and yet she is not above using them
to her advantage (she casually rats out her chief competition for the artist
as a Jew when Wark turns out to be an anti-Semite as well).
It is only when the couple
leaves to go home that they can all finally feel comfortable again.
George may be from North Carolina, but he is not a man there, he is a boy.
When he tells Madeleine that's he's damn glad to get out of there as they
follow the highway North, it is not a judgment of the family he left behind.
It is a judgment of himself.
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Posted: October 14, 2005.